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Thailand Shelves Chinese Submarine Acquisition to Buy New Frigate Instead

The Thai Ministry of Defense has decided to shelve its planned submarine acquisition from China after the developer failed to deliver one of the production requirements.

Defense Minister Sutin Klungsang said the decision was due to Beijing’s inability to provide the S26T Yuan-class attack submarine with a German-made diesel engine.

Berlin did not allow the export of submarine engines to China due to an arms embargo imposed by the European Union on the Asian military superpower.

To persuade Bangkok to continue the deal without German engines, the developer offered the Chinese-made CHD620 diesel engines instead, and it received approval from the Royal Thai Navy.

However, the Thai government did not agree to the changes, saying it is sticking with the German-made MTU396 diesel engines for the country’s underwater vehicle.

Sutin clarified that the submarine deal has not been canceled but shelved temporarily until Thailand is ready to resume negotiations.

Troubled Project

Even before the issue on engine integration surfaced, Thailand’s Yuan-class submarine acquisition had been hit with several budget and production challenges.

The country initially wanted three submarines for $1.05 billion, but budget constraints only allowed it to procure one submarine for $403 million, slated to be delivered by 2024.

The navy also signed a direct procurement agreement with China, bypassing any approval from the military-backed legislature or the Office of the Auditor General.

Another issue that emerged regarding the program was the submarine’s ability to operate in the shallow territorial waters of Thailand, which many critics have doubted.


After announcing the shelving of the submarine deal, the navy came up with two proposals to bolster the Southeast Asian nation’s maritime capabilities.

One is to buy a frigate that can fight against submarines, or seek a new offshore patrol vessel.

Sutin said the Thai government chose the frigate option, which could cost the country about 17 billion baht ($470 million), over 1 billion baht ($28 million) more than the submarine program.

“The frigate option will compromise the navy’s capability slightly when compared with a submarine project but the navy can accept it,” he told Bangkok Post.

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