BANGKOK — Thailand’s navy will seek Cabinet approval to purchase its first submarines in 65 years, the defense minister and a member of the junta said Friday.
Prawit Wongsuwan, who is also deputy prime minister, said the submarines will cost 36 billion baht and be paid for over 10 years. He said the first of the Chinese-made Yuan class S26T submarines will be purchased out of the 2017 budget.
The purchase of such a major weapons system from China has political as well as defense ramifications because the ruling junta has sought closer relations with China to balance traditional close ties with the United States, which has been critical of Thailand’s turn away from democracy.
The navy has been seeking to buy submarines for almost a decade, having been forced to decommission its last subs in 1951 after being on the losing side of a failed coup by naval officers. In recent years, it has also considered buying submarines from Germany or South Korea.
A 540 million baht submarine base and training center was inaugurated in July 2014 despite the lack of any subs.
When the navy revived its plan last year, it delayed submitting it to the interim cabinet after widespread criticism it would be wasteful, and that the Gulf of Thailand is too shallow for submarines to operate efficiently.
Prawit said submarines would be useful because Thailand has resources in the Andaman Sea to protect and because neighboring countries are also acquiring them.