One of the most challenging project for the new Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and Defense Minister Sutin Klungsaeng is the submarine procurement project, which was initiated under the military government.
Many people opposed the project because of its high cost, as the country still needs funds to improve the economy and public welfare.
On September 21, Admiral Choengchai Chomchoengphaet, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Navy (RTN), said that the army will propose to the government to install Chinese engines, CHD 620, to replace German ones in the purchase of submarines. It is estimated that the installation will take about 3 years.
Admiral Choengchai, who will retire on September 30, expressed his confidence in the Chinese engines. He said that after testing the Chinese CHD 620 engines, he considers them comparable to the German engines in terms of safety and operational data. He cited Pakistan as an example of a country that uses Chinese engines in its submarines.
In addition, China would provide an extended warranty from the original 2 years to 8 years, including spare parts, and Chinese personnel would oversee maintenance of the engines in Thailand.
Regarding negotiations with Germany, Admiral Choengchai mentioned earlier attempts but noted that Germany cannot export submarine engines if they could be used by China for military purposes.
He stressed the need for submarines for Thailand’s naval strategy and regional security, despite public opposition. The decision on whether or not to proceed with the project rests with the Cabinet and must be carefully considered.
The navy began the submarine procurement project under the military regime. On October 25, 2016, the Cabinet approved a budget of 36,000 million baht to purchase two Yuan-class S26T submarines plus one from China.
The specific Chinese deal was more criticised as a costly extravagance during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many Thais were struggling to get by. Indeed, the pandemic forced the government to postpone its planned purchase of two more Yuan-class subs at a cost of 22.5 billion baht.
Thailand agreed in 2017 to pay 13.5 billion baht ($375 million) for the procurement of an S26T Yuan-class submarine from the state-owned China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co (CSOC).
Originally, delivery of the first submarine was expected to be in 2023, but construction on the submarine ground to a halt in 2022 when Germany’s Motor and Turbine Union company did not supply its cutting-edge MTU396 diesel engines to CSOC for installation in the Thai submarine due to a European Union government embargo on the sale of military items to China.