Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said Tuesday that the Royal Navy was moving ahead with purchasing a second Chinese-made submarine as part of a 2018 plan to establish a fleet of three of the vessels.
Prayuth, who also serves as defense minister in Thailand’s new government, said the purchase was set.
“It was already done. Why? We should have it, shouldn’t we,” he asked reporters after chairing his first defense ministry meeting.
“Is it OK to have only one submarine which will need repair some day. We should have a back-up, shouldn’t we,” he said.
Prayuth did not release details about the deal and naval officers refrained from discussing it as well.
Before the meeting, the Bangkok Post quoted navy sources saying that a second submarine was valued at 12 billion baht ($389.6 million). The navy is expected to submit its 2020 fiscal budget for approval by parliament before the sub can be purchased.
In 2018, under a military government led by Prayuth, the navy announced a 36 billion baht (U.S. $1.6 billion) plan to buy the three submarines. The purchase of the first was approved in April 2018.
In May 2018, former government spokesman Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkumnerd told BenarNews that the cabinet approved the navy’s plan to buy the first Yuan class disel-electric submarine for 13.5 billion baht ($438 million) from China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co. Ltd.
A ceremony to mark the start of construction was held in September 2018 at a shipyard in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province. Delivery is expected in 2023, according to officials.
A military affairs observer who asked to not be identified questioned the quality of Chinese submarines compared with those made by Western manufacturers, and pointed out that China refrained from releasing performance details.
“Performance, materials, endurance, sonar and weapon systems have not been proven yet, unlike those of western nations. Therefore, the life of the Chinese submarine is about 10 to 15 years, while those of western nations are 30 years plus,” the observer told BenarNews.
The submarines will be the first purchased by Thailand in more than 60 years, the Bangkok Post reported, adding navy officials said they were needed to protect maritime interests. The subs are to be stationed in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea.
In the fiscal 2019 budget, the defense ministry has been assigned 49 billion baht ($1.59 billion) for the army, 23 billion baht ($746 million) for the navy and 28 billion baht ($909 million) for the air force.