Thailand Looking at German Subs
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI - The Royal Thai Navy (RTN) is considering the procurement of two German decommissioned 500-ton Type 206A diesel-electric attack submarines. If successful, these will be the RTNs first submarines.
Thailand is not the only potential customer. Germany is discussing the sale to other unidentified countries, a German defense source said. The source did confirm the submarines were decommissioned and available.
The planned purchase of two submarines is part of a multiyear weapons procurement package approved by the Thai cabinet and parliament last year, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, now a visiting professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
The submarine deal is part of a larger 10-year, $30 billion program to procure new arms, including anti-submarine helicopters, six more Gripen fighters, frigates, riot control equipment, tanks and armored personnel carriers, he said.
"Thailand's ongoing spat with Cambodia has reinforced the Thai military's case for submarines," Pongsudhirak said.
Cambodia and Thailand have overlapping claims over the resource rich Joint Development Area in the Gulf of Thailand.
"Thailand's strategic outlook on submarines indeed stems more from regional rivalry parity with its neighbors, less from strategic and tactical calculations," he said. This has promoted the RTN to push for submarines, particularly when Vietnam and other regional neighbors have embarked on similar plans.
"The Thai Navy and the military generally have not come up with concrete strategic plans for submarine utilization and deployment," Pongsudhirak said. "It is the idea that Thailand needs submarines to keep up with neighbors' arms modernization."
However, the tension with Cambodia has augmented this idea because the future extraction of resources in the Gulf of Thailand is likely to be contentious.
Thailand is clearly trying to keep up with its neighbors, said Sam Bateman, with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Bateman is concerned the age of the 206A submarines, commissioned during the mid-1970s, and the RTN's lack of experience could be problematic.
"I'd be seriously concerned about the submarine safety implications - an old submarine with inexperienced submariners is a dangerous mix."
Albrecht Muller contributed to this story from Berlin.