By Saksith Saiyasombut
The Bangkok Post reports
The Royal Thai Navy wants to buy two second-hand submarines at a cost of 6-7 billion baht [$195m – $228m]. […]
The specifications of the submarines have not been determined but the navy is expected to buy them from European suppliers, probably Germany.
The navy has stressed the need to acquire submarines because Thai sailors have little knowledge of submarine technology, which is constantly upgraded.
“Several neighbouring countries have submarines at their disposal. But Thai sailors have never come into contact with submarines. We are still backwards in terms of submarine technology,” said the source. […]
The plan has the backing of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who wants the armed forces to improve their capabilities in what is seen as a return of favours to the military for standing by the government in dealing with the red shirts during last year’s protests.
“Navy wants to buy 2 subs“, Bangkok Post, January 22, 2011
A local German paper, Kieler Nachrichten, reported recently that the Thai Navy wants to buy six used type 206 submarines from Germany. It continues:
Thailand’s ministry of defense has promised their navy 500 million Euros [$681m] for the construction of a submarine flotilla in last March.
Bilateral talks between Berlin and Bangkok have already taken place. When the purchase contract with Thailand is ready to be signed is not known by this time. But the boats have already been inspected. The planned relocation of the submarines from Eckernförde to Wilhelmshaven for decommissioning has been stopped shortly thereafter.
“Chancen stehen gut: Großauftrag für HDW in Sicht“, Kieler Nachrichten, January 18, 2011, translation by me
The story goes on that the Kiel dockyard company HDW is tipped to be contracted with the maintenance and preparation for the handover of the submarines, which is scheduled after March.
The Royal Thai Navy has long desired to buy new submarines for some time now (read here and here), including the suspected involvement of arms dealer Viktor Bout. The necessity though is debatable to say the least. Navy officials are repeatedly citing various reasons ranging from economic reasons (in the sense of securing trade routes by sea) to a “strong bargaining power in international negotiations” (source), which is clearly an offensive, if not aggressive, stance against its neighboring countries. While Thailand is so far the only one in the region that maintains an aircraft carrier, others like Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore have or are in the process of acquiring submarines, leading to the suggestion of an arms race.
That said, according to Richard A. Bitzinger, Senior Fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, even though it is not an arms race per se, it has its consequences:
If Southeast Asia is in the midst of an arms dynamic, as it would appear, it may still have a deleterious effect on regional security. Relatively considerable sums of monies are being spent on weaponry, perhaps with little regard to their actual usefulness in military situations (at least, the kind of likely military situations that would occur in the region), and the deployment of these weapons are no less potentially distressing to the regional security dynamic, especially if some event were to push the region into conflict. On the other hand, the acceptance that the region is in an arms dynamic and not an arms race means that the situation is not immutable and that the problem of arms proliferation in the region is resolvable, […] easily comprehended, bounded and constrained. The cycle can be broken or mitigated, and it is certainly within the power of the local states to do so, should they choose to do so.
Bitzinger, Richard A.: “A New Arms Race? Explaining Recent Southeast Asian Military Acquisitions“, in: Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs, Volume 32, Number 1, April 2010
From a domestic angle, this is another one in a long list of the proposed equipment procurement of the army (see previous story on Ukrainian APCs and German engines to Thailand). In the greater scheme of things, this is also the result of the Thai government granting the army a bigger budget in order to secure their support. A Bangkok Post story from March 2010 (in anticipation of the red shirts protests) suggested that the armed forces were to file in their wish lists. Since the protests have been dispersed by the army, the government is now owing the rewards to them – no matter how useless, impractical or dubious these soon-to-be mothballed big toys will be.