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Bangkok Post
Bangkok Post

Be cautious on sub deal

A model of a Yuan Class S26T submarine the navy has agreed to buy from China, is displayed at the Royal Thai Navy's auditorium on 02 August 2017. The navy has shelved the procurement of two submarines. Bangkok (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)

Only two days after assuming office, new navy chief commander Adm Choengchai Chomchoengpaet made his mark by saying the navy still could not accept a deal that offered new China-made engines to replace German engines for three submarines.

Adm Choengchai said on Monday that a study by the Naval Dockyard's technical panel on the Chinese engines was not adequate, and if the contract is to be amended, the replacement engines have to be of at least equal quality.

"The navy's chief-of-staff, who chairs the committee, will decide whether to proceed with the procurement contract or terminate it before submitting the matter to the Defence Ministry for consideration," the new navy chief commander said.

Adm Choengchai has said that the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) and China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co (CSOC) are still negotiating. Yet, the navy will not set a deadline, nor rush to accept the seller's deal.

The move provides some respite for taxpayers worried that the navy will make a quick decision despite the fact that the seller failed to adhere to the contract. No one wants the RTN to be stuck with alternative engines not up to scratch.

The RTN's plan to purchase the much-coveted submarines for modernising its fleet became problematic after the Chinese supplier failed to stick to the original agreement.

In 2017, CSOC won the deal to provide three S26T Yuan-class submarines for a total cost of 36 billion baht, or about 12 billion baht each. The deal is government-to-government, made during the junta government under former defence minister, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, now deputy prime minister.

So far, the country has paid 7 billion baht as part of an instalment plan to have the first vessel delivered in 2024. In the contract, the RTN requires reliable and well-tested German MTU 369 diesel engines for the submarines.

Problems first surfaced when it was learnt that Germany barred MTU engines from being used in Chinese military vessels.

CSOC then suggested to the RTN that CHD620 diesel engines be used to replace the German-made engines. The CSOC reportedly also offered to provide Thailand with two second-hand Chinese submarines for no charge in a bid to make up for the engine error.

But last month, RTN tested the CHD620 and did not approve it.

The problem is that the CHD620 engine is a new model not in current use anywhere, including not in Chinese submarines. If the RTN agrees to take the engines, Thailand and Pakistan (who have them on order) will be the only two countries using CHD620s in submarines.

RTN's dockyard tasked with inspecting the engine reportedly fears it will be held responsible if the procurement committee eventually decides to accept the recommendation and problems arise later on.

The new navy chief's decision is creditable and deserves support.

But the big question is: What is the stance of the government and politicians who are involved with this government-to-government submarine procurement?

As this procurement is a deal signed during the period of the junta government, Defence Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and Gen Prawit should make vocal their support that RTN will be given a free hand to make the most suitable decision.

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