THE NAVY has proposed the purchase of three submarines from China through a government-to-government contract worth Bt36 billion (S$1.9 billion), Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Kraisorn Chansuwanich said yesterday.
Kraisorn said he did not know when Deputy Premier and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan would submit the proposed procurement deal to the Cabinet for deliberation.
The decision to submit the proposal was made by 17 young-generation committee members from the Submarine Squadron, having arrived at the decision after examining similar products from six countries.
Fourteen of them favoured Chinese submarines, while two committee members chose submarines from Germany and one preferred submarines from Sweden.
The Chinese submarines would be sufficiently armed, Kraisorn said.
The payment, if approved, would be made over between seven to 10 years. China would train the Thai Navy personnel on how to operate the subs and provide eight years' worth of spare parts, he said.
"The purchase is a wise decision to maximise our capability under a tight budget. With the same amount of budget, we may be able to obtain only two submarines if dealing with other countries," he said.
"All three submarines will be new, taking five to six years to complete. Our officers will be assigned to observe the construction for two years. This will be quite challenging for them, as the technology to be used is rather new [for us].
"China is the only country that equips the Air-Independent Propulsion System in its submarines. The system allows the submarines to fully submerge for as long as 21 days.
"Those without this system, from South Korea and Germany, are able to submerge for only five to six days, and if the submarines resurface too often, they can be detected by satellites.
"Indeed, there are concerns about products made in China. As of now, I wish not to comment on the point," he added.
"Any questions will be answered once there is an approval from the Cabinet, so any unnecessary criticisms can be avoided."
He added that media criticism on the matter would lead to a feud.
Kraisorn said he was not worried over whether the Cabinet would give the nod for the purchase. "The Navy works on orders from the Cabinet and that's it. We are transparent on this, as there is no backstage lobbyist."
Asked how necessary the proposed purchase is considering the Kingdom is at peace with neighbours, Kraisorn replied: "We have not had any submarines for five decades since the last World War, and we do not know when an emergency will arise.
"It also takes at least three years to learn how to operate submarines properly and to build strong teamwork among 50 crew on board, so we need time to prepare ourselves just in case.
"More importantly, submarines are defensive strategic arms. We will purchase them to balance our power with neighbouring countries."
Kraisorn's comments came after Prawit refused to answer how Thailand would benefit from purchasing the submarines, saying that he only thought Thailand should have submarines of its own.