THE THAI NAVY looks obstinately resistant to change and disruptive technology not only in general terms of current world affairs but in specific terms of modern-day defense initiatives when it comes to the planned procurement of conventional weapon systems such as submarines.
Despite the event in which Prime Minister/Defense Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has recently told the navy to step back from its strenuous pursuit of a couple of Chinese-built submarines, which are merely a copycat of a Russian-built one, many admirals, if not most, including the retiring navy chief Adm Luechai Ruddit, persist that submarines are definitely a ”must-have, strategic” weapon system with which, they say, Thailand could flex her latest naval muscles and which, they say, could probably prompt possible adversaries, be it Vietnam or Myanmar, to think twice before launching any naval offensives in Thai territorial waters.
Testifying before a subcommittee under the House Budget Committee in charge of scrutinizing hardware procurement plans of varied government agencies, one of the admirals apparently made an off-the-cuff comment that the Chinese have launched sort of a promotional sale campaign for the two Yuan-class S26T subs for a combined price of 22.5 billion baht which they ostensibly deem as ”inexpensive.”
In the eye of civilians, particularly those House subcommittee members, the admirals look strongly determined as if they were to say to the lawmakers ”take it or leave it.” Navy spokesman Vice Adm Prachachat Sirisawat bluntly called those who may stand in the way of the coveted diesel-electric subs ”hate-mongering, selfish politicians.”
More often than not, the admirals impatiently point out that several of Thailand’s fellow ASEAN states were reported to be either currently deploying submarines or getting very close to procuring some and that the Thai navy definitely cannot stand still in the face of such potential threats to national and regional maritime security. That refers to subs either currently deployed or planned to be deployed in the foreseeable future by Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and, last but not least, Myanmar.
According to a navy officer attached to the Naval Fleet headquarters in Sattahip, the prime minister-cum-defense minister is very much expected by the admirals to continue to lend solid support for their planned purchase of the two Chinese-built subs, for which an instalment pay would get started within fiscal 2022, amounting to 3.37 billion baht. The procurement plan for the two subs was designed as a follow-up to the one of the same type for which the navy has already placed a 13.5 billion baht purchase order and flaunted as its first ever to be deployed in more than six decades.
The admirals invariably maintain that they are not shopping around for new war toys with any more funding out of the taxpayer’s money than already allocated under its hardware procurement plans which are yet to be carried out over a period of several consecutive years.
The two Chinese-built subs were originally designed to be bought in fiscal 2020, then put off until fiscal 2021 and finally put on hold again by Prayut in the face of strong objection not only from opposition MPs but members of the public who have loudly moaned online and at open venues over their make-ends-meet hardships and the country’s economic slumps, affected more or less by the pandemic situation.
Chulalongkorn University political scientist Surachart Bamrungsuk contends that either a victory or defeat in the world’s modern-day warfare is no longer decided by conventional weapon systems such as artilleries, bombers, frigates and submarines but by state-of-the-art, yet disruptive innovations such as unmanned aerial vehicles or long-range drones, which could launch air-to-surface and air-to-air attacks on targets with precision guidance systems.
Submarines have become more vulnerable to surface ships, jet fighters and drones equipped with electronic measures and electronic countermeasures which could probably turn them into helpless underwater chunks of metal in today’s computer-aided, tech-savvy war games, the academic remarks.
Surachart contends that Thailand entirely remains in no need of subs even in terms of national defense and security, given the fact that her navy only has relatively shallow waters in the Gulf of Thailand and part of the Andaman Sea to defend whereas sustained disputes over tiny archipelagos and atolls in the South China Sea between China and some ASEAN member states are merely a far cry.
It is simply beyond one’s imagination that the Thai navy might be more or less obliged to deploy a frigate, let alone a submarine, in the South China Sea under the pretext of national or regional maritime interests.
That is literally out of bounds for the Thai navy to sail around in the first place. That a naval fleet might dutifully look to safeguard Thailand’s undersea natural resources or sea lines of communication as far from shore as in the South China Sea is completely unjustifiable, according to the academic.
Surachart insists that all generals, marshals and admirals think twice about planning old-fashioned war games and try to look out to today’s disruptive technologies, especially involving the world’s defense industries, which could virtually send their conventional, yet costly, war toys down the drain for good.
Top: Thai navy officer watching S26T diesel-electric submarine model at the 2017 Defense Exhibition. Photo: British”Jane’s Defense Weekly” website and published by Yqqlm.com
First insert: A model of the 2,550 tonne S26T submarine built by China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Company (CSOC). Photo: Asianmilitaryreview.com
Second insert: The cylindrical, clover-shaped aerial vehicle with a mounted camera on board is one of the latest breed of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) – commonly known as “drones”. Photo: IAEA Vienna, Austria, 15 May 2013 (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Below: The Thai navy is very eager to acquire two more S26T submarines one of which can be seen rising above the water in this picture. Photo: Thaimilitaryandasianregion.wordpress.com