(CTN News) – The Thai government appears to be warming to the idea of settling for Chinese engines to power the Yuan-class submarine it ordered from China after Germany refused to provide its engine.
The Thai government gave the Royal Navy the go-light in April 2017 to spend 36 billion baht (about US$1.05 billion) on three Yuan-class submarines from China. Two of the submarines were approved at an original cost of 13.5 billion baht ($403 million), but this was reduced to one submarine due to budget constraints.
However, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha threatened to cancel the sale if the Chinese could not install the German-made MTU-396 diesel engines originally required for the acquisition.
Germany voiced alarm about Chinese military exports utilizing its equipment and other commodities last year. The state-owned Chinese submarine builder CHD620 reportedly provided German MTU-certified engines developed through reverse engineering last year, as reported by the EurAsian Times.
Thailand Considers Chinese Engines:
It is good knowledge that Thailand turned down a Chinese-made submarine engine out of quality concerns. Nikkei Asia reported on June 15 that the Thai government is seriously contemplating the Chinese engine offer in light of German officials’ continued lack of movement.
According to the journal, unnamed sources in the Thai Defence Ministry confirmed that officials from the Thai Navy and their Chinese counterparts would meet again later this month to negotiate the submarine contract.
According to the sources, Thailand also inquired with Pakistan about the condition of its fleet of Chinese-made submarines in anticipation of the Chinese replacement. China may be able to equip Thailand with engines identical to those on eight Pakistani Yuan-class submarines.
In 2015, Pakistan and Beijing agreed to sell eight Yuan-class submarines to Pakistan. The plan called for China and Pakistan to construct four submarines each. As part of its growing role as a major player in Asia’s military supply chain, China has also donated submarines to Bangladesh and Myanmar.
There may be progress on the sale to Thailand now that the Thai navy has reportedly deployed lawyers to analyze the contract.
A member of the military intelligence community has revealed that the Thai Navy has retained lawyers who are “looking for loopholes in the law to make changes to move this deal forward.”
As the author puts it, “it is very sensitive because there can be trouble for the navy if the contract has been violated and so much money is being spent.”
The Song and Yuan-class attack submarines account for most of China’s conventional submarine force, and their propulsion is provided by German-made MTU 396 SE84 series diesel engines.
Despite the EU arms embargo, MTU sold China over a hundred of its engines for destroyers and submarines between 1993 and 2020, as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported.
After an investigation revealed this breach, however, Germany refused to budge, and today no engines are being shipped from Germany. The leader of the Thai junta then threatened to back out of the agreement, risking a relationship with a key ally in the process.
Military experts agreed that Thailand’s predicament was a textbook example of a top-tier navy and shipbuilding industry in a tight spot when it threatened to back out of the arrangement.
China’s Efforts to Salvage the Deal:
This setback to China’s plans to become a regional defense supplier when many nations are looking to move away from reliance on the United States and Russia as a source of their arms.
China has made numerous efforts over the past year to save the contract, including offering assurances and concessions. Adm. Choengchai Chomchoengpaet, commander of the Royal Thai Navy (RTN), announced in April that the Thai government would accept the alternative propulsion technology if it is secure, and China compensated Thailand for the delay in delivery of the vessel.
The engine’s security is one of three factors we must consider. Second, the Thai Navy needs the Chinese Navy to guarantee this engine. BenarNews reports that he also demanded reimbursement for the time lost while waiting for the replacement engine. These factors will determine whether the contract is continued or terminated.
According to the Commander at the time, the Chief of the Chinese Navy and the country’s Defence Minister had agreed to back the certification of the CHD620, which was built in China by China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Co (CSOC), as was agreed upon in 2022.
Analysts also believe that China lobbied hard for the junta government to accept the Chinese engines since the country’s future sales of submarines would have been at risk had it not been able to furnish the submarine with the original engine.
Nikkei Asia quoted a diplomat from an Asian mission in Bangkok as saying that China has a lot riding on this agreement because of its reputation as a reliable weapons supplier.
The Thai navy initially rejected the Chinese offer of an engine but eventually accepted it with strings attached. This has contributed to the belief that Beijing is exerting pressure on the country.