March 25, 2015

Thailand may eventually purchase two submarines

What appears to be a commissioning ceremony for two of Thailand's Matchanu class submarine in 1938. They were 370 tons surfaced.
Model of a Matchanu class submarine (courtesy thaigunship). Submarines, up to 1945, carried many objects on the hull and often had upturned bows - all leading to slow submerged speeds.

For the latest on Thailand's on-again, off-again interest in submarines see Submarine Matters Does Thailand Need Submarines At All? August 12, 2015.

On March 25, 2015 the Bangkok Post reported a rise in Thai interest in submarines: "A plan to buy submarines for the Royal Thai Navy is on again with strong backing from Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon who wants Thailand’s fleet to be on par with neighbouring countries. [The Thai Navy may wanttwo diesel-powered submarines with displacement of 2,400-3,000 tonnes. The source said the Chinese-made Yuan class is favoured by the committee due to its specifications. The "U-class" [do they mean U-209 class?] from South Korea and Germany also pinged the sonar screen.

Comment - the possible budget reported elsewhere equal to US$1.1 Billion would indicate a total  upfront price for two modern medium sized submarines. 


Japan sold four Matchanu class submarines to Thailand in 1938. Thailand decommissioned these submarines in 1951. The early decommissioning was due to the Thai Government's reaction to a failed coup in 1951. The Government dismantled Navy influence - in part by stripping the Navy of its submarines.

In recent years Thailand has been evaluating several small-medium submarine types with a view to restarting a submarine service that actually operates submarines. An interesting entry in states:

"It has been standard practice with the Thai submarine program ever since it was originally floated in 1959, proposals are floated and subsequently suspended and revived several times until cancelled. It was revived (and canceled again) in 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2003, and 2009."

Thailand has several reasons for its current evaluation of submarines. The reasons include the growth and modernisation of navies surrounding Thailand. Nearby countries have developed submarine services, including India, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and China. 

Bangladesh recently ordering two submarines from China and possible Burmese interest in Chinese submarines provide additional reasons for Thailand to buy submarines. Submarines provide a potent asymmetric defensive weapon for countries with small navies. Submarines also contribute to a country's and its Navy's prestige. The Royal Thai Navy has apparently established a submarine squadron at Sattahip naval base which has  a German-made Rheinmetall submarine simulator, staffed by RTN officers who have received submarine training in Germany, as well as South Korea, over the past two years.

Most submarine building countries have offered to sell two or three submarines to Thailand, including:

- France-DCNS (Scorpene?)

- South Korea-DSME (Chang Bogo class, Type 209 derivative) or alternatively the unbuilt "HDS-500RTN" based on the unbuilt "KSS-500A" (510 tons, crew of 10) which is in-turn a descendant of Germany's HDW Type 207 (Kobben) small defensive submarines.

- China - the "S-26T" which may be a version of China's Yuan class or used Romeo-Ming class?

- Germany-TKMS-HDW Type 209/1400mod and also the Type 210mod 
Russia's improved Kilo class (Project 636)

- Sweden? (mysteriously silent). Perhaps two (further) refitted Sodermanland class? (currently Sweden's HMS Södermanland and HMS Östergötland?).


Thailand has been hesitant in acquiring submarines possibly seeking leases, used subs or good credit terms. This is in a business environment where the Thai economy is growing more slowly than anticipated

Thailand appears to be seeking smaller than standard submarines. If used submarines are considered the remaining German built Type 207s (Kobben class) and Chinese Romeo-Ming class are likely to be obsolete and rusty as they have passed or are nearing their 30 year use-buy dates. Design and construction of modern 500 ton submarines are likely to be expensive as they are smaller than standard - requiring higher than usual design costs for low production numbers. As Thailand has had no submarines for more than 60 years there is no easy answer to what Thailand needs - no simple replacement program. The German simulator may increase the chances that Germany or South Korea (using German designs) might eventually win any Thai order. 

I'm wondering about the silence on Sweden. With Sweden's recently announced pre-order of two A26s this may free-up Sweden's two Sodermanland class (currently Sweden's HMS Södermanland and HMS Östergötland) for further refitting and sale to Thailand. This is noting there is a historical precedent where Sweden effectively created Singapore's submarine service using 4 Challenger class (refitted Swedish) submarines. 

The question "what does Thailand want?" remains. Thailand may need small submarines for shallow, littoral waters in the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea yet Thailand may also need medium sized submarines for longer range/endurance. Subs with AIP may be on Thailand's list of needs.



Vigilis said...

Pete, when the late Pete Prichard authored his definitive Submarine Badges and Insignia of the World in 1997, he described the unusually appealing THA-1 (insignia then used by Siam).

Remarking about the four I class subs that had been acquired from Japan, Prichard says:

"These stayed in commission in the Thai navy until 1955 when they were decommissioned for lack of spare parts. They had been reported in poor repair since 1948. ...The present Royal Thai Navy, according to naval publications, is looking to purchase replacement boats, and appear to be favoring a deal with the Peoples Republic of China for 3 Romeo Class boats.

... Though sold and touted as Royal Thai Submarine Badge (THA-2x), this badge, looking far more powerful than some in this book, is not. ... it is the distinctive of the Royal Thai Navy's equivalent of the U.S. Navy's S.E.A.L.s."

In my opinion, the number one problem for a few second-world and almost all third-world subs is, as Thailand's had been in maintenance, particularly unavailability of critical spare parts. Russia itself has had this problem until recently.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Vigilis

Thanks for the tip on Romeo which under the Chinese system (Type 033s) were eventually developed into Mings (Type 035s) .

Thanks also for raising the decommissioning year issue. The mystery over the year of decommissiong the Matchanus seems to owe more to Thai inter-service politics than our typical Anglo precision. But I agree 1955 may be more correct. I've altered tthe article text accordingly.

The Thai army crushing the Thai Navy in the "Manhattan Rebellion" seems to have milestoned the first (1951) "decommissioning" :

"[In 1951] The Thai submarine service came to an end following a coup attempt against the military government of Plaek Pibunsongkhramknown as the Manhattan Rebellion. The failed coup, led by a group of naval officers on 29 June 1951, led to the Navy's being stripped of its power and influence. The Submarine Group was dissolved on 16 July, and all four boats were decommissioned on 30 November 1951."

That 1951 "decommissioning" may have only been temporary. The political fortunes of the Thai Navy may have rebounded after the 1951 with the submarines have been considered recommissioned until 1955.

So both years: 1951 and 1955 may be politically correct but only 55 would be technically "correct".

To underline the nebulous nature of process in Thailand, is a useful entry in :

"It has been standard practice with the Thai submarine program ever since it was originally floated in 1959, proposals are floated and subsequently suspended and revived several times until cancelled. It was revived (and canceled again) in 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2003, and 2009."



Anonymous said...

Dear Pete,

according to my knowledge (and German Wikipedia) there are no used Type 207 available today. Danish Navy got 4 Type 207. Two are scapped and two others are now used as museum. Poland has 4 active Type 207 and one reserve for spare parts.

Poland is healthy and looking for modern submarines like Type 214 or Scorpene. So within a few years the Type 207 could be available again.

This submarine is a good and cheap way to learn how to use submarines. TKMS could retrofit the subs for warm water conditions without much profit to get the order for the follwing generation.


Peter Coates said...

Hi MHalblaub

Thanks for the information. Two or more of Poland's TKMS Type 207 ("Kobben class) sounds like a good deal given the low cost.

The small size of these subs would make them more suited than medium subs to the shallow waters of the Gulf of Thailand. I understand these shallow waters have made Thailand hesitant about buying subs in the past.

I agree tropicalisation of the 207s would be essential.