Amid widespread public opposition, the Thai junta has given the green light to a controversial plan to spend billions of baht on a Chinese submarine.
On 24 January 2017, Adm Jumpol Lumpiganon, spokesman of the Royal Thai Navy (RTN), announced that the government of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, has approved the purchase of a submarine from China. The 13.5 billion baht purchase has been cleared by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly.
Delivery of the Yuan Class S26Tsubmarine is expected in six years.
In response to criticism for spending such a large amount of public money on a submarine, Jumpol fired back, “Is there any single weapon that the RTN cannot use?”
The RTN spokesperson added that though the price of a single submarine was more expensive than the package of three submarines initially planned by the RTN, the procurement budget was still limited.
He also implied, however, that the RTN might procure more submarines in the near future.
In 2016, citing an arms race in Southeast Asia, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Defence Minister, announced that the ministry had finalised a plan to spend 36 billion baht for three submarines from China.
The decision pleased the Submarine Division under the RTN, which has not had a submarine for 63 years since an unsuccessful attempted coup d’état by navy officers in 1951.
For the junta’s top brass, submarines could add an ‘awe factor’ to the Thai military. The junta leader on 7 July 2016 told the press that, “they [submarines] are not for battle, but so that others will be in awe of us.”
Many high-ranking junta officials have expressed the same favourable view of the plan.
Many people, however, raised eyebrows at the policy to spend 36 billion baht during the current period of economic stagnation and amid earlier rumours that the junta might scrap the universal public healthcare system.