August 12, 2015

Does Thailand Need Submarines At All?

writing for The Diplomat, July 16, 2015 has neatly summed up Thailand's "do we need submarines" debate http://thediplomat.com/2015/07/is-chinas-new-submarine-deal-with-thailand-now-in-peril/:

            "The decision to place a hold on this particular submarine deal — which would cost Thailand 36 billion baht ($1.06 billion) for [the 3 Chinese S26T submarines on offer] — is also not altogether unexpected. The purchase has run into fierce opposition within Thailand among politicians and activists, many of whom have raised doubts about whether the country really needs submarines and suggested that the money would be better spent on more urgent priorities like boosting the economy. Given all this, it is not surprising that [Thai Defence Minister] Prawit referenced the need to take into account “the public reception” to the submarine purchasing plan. While he was not specific on how this would be done, his suggestion that the Navy is “yet to conduct a thorough study” on how suitable and cost-effective the submarines are – which directly contradicts his earlier statement that Chinese submarines were clearly the most cost-effective – indicates that this may require not only more time, but further examination."


Thailand's surrounding sea depths (see map above) severely limit operations for any future Thai submarine service. The lightest blue (almost white) for the seas/oceans on the map indicate sea depths of less than 200 meters (m) around Thailand's whole coastline. This is for Thailand's west coast (Andaman Sea) and especially east coast (Gulf of Thailand - out to hundreds of kilometers). According to Wikipedia, the Gulf of Thailand has an average depth of 58m, which is greater than the average depth of the Baltic Sea (55m) but instead of a maximum depth of 459m in the Baltic Sea, the maximum depth in the Gulf of Thailand is only 85m. The Baltic therefore provides quite deep places for submarines to sit on the seafloor and hide - the Gulf of Thailand does not. (Map courtesy US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)).

Perhaps Thailand should be considering submarines of 500 tons or less. Mini-submarines are harder to see in shallow water and are several hundred $millions cheaper for three. Perhaps South Korea's 200 toDolgorae class or perhaps a slightly larger 300 ton submarine.
---


Thailand's major strategic issues are on land. Thailand's politico-military power is well served by non-aligned neutrality, overall good relations with its immediate Southeast Asian neigbours (Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos) tense but manageable relations with Cambodia. Indonesia is a middle power with no tensions with Thailand(?) Australia is no threat. China and India are the great regional powers. 

The lack of clearly defined threats that Thai submarines could counter has been at the heart of the "Do we need submarines" debate in Thailand for decades. So why does Thailand want submarines? To protect fisheries? Anti-drug smugglers? To intercept refugee boats? For intelligence gathering? To satisfy an ally who demands or expects submarine activities? 

To detect and intercept fishing boats, drug smuggling boats and refugee boats best requires patrol boats. Patrol boats do not need to look through a periscope or hide. Patrol boats operate by having constant radio contact, radar and visual sight. Satellite links help. Thailand's patrol boats and larger ships deter by being seen.

The Thai Navy is big enough to handle navies of its immediate neigbours. Is India a threat? Or is the possibility of future unimagined threats sufficient to justify a submarine purchase?

Is China the main threat? If so buying submarines off China builds military bilateral relations - cash for good relations. China is probably no longer prepared to provide soft loans or write off debt-costs. With slower Chinese growth and China's 2015 financial/stockmarket shocks China is probably expecting hard currecy payment for the three submarines. Has that demand hindered the Thai-China submarine deal?

China has already excessively reduced the price per submarine (now US$333 million with training + spares included). The standard international price for a submarine is around US$500 million and then AIP costs extra. Training and spares over several years is often another $500 million per sub.

Additional reasons to have submarines are to keep up with the neighbours in a regional submarine race - for political and strategic power, deterrence and prestige.

Looking internally into Thailand it needs to be asked "Has 2014's political crisis given the Army  power that makes the Navy jealous? 

Is the Navy therefore entitled to have an expensive weapons system because the Navy does not have the same level of power?"  

Please connect with Submarine Matters:


32 comments:

Nicky said...

HI Pete,
What Thailand really needs is a small 500 ton submarine on the level of the Type 210 mod, Ula Class Submarine, Kobben class Submarine and Type 206 class Submarines. One option that I can see Thailand going for is getting 2nd hand Södermanland-class submarine from Sweden. The other option would be to buy Type 214 or Chang bogo class Submarines from South Korea. I also think the Type 209 is one option as well.

The other option for them is the Improved Kilo class Submarine, Lada class Submarine or even the Amur class Submarine. Which I think the Improved Kilo class Submarines are far cheaper than China and they can get 2 to 3 subs.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky

Yes very small submarines, far below 500 tons may be appropriate, OR no subs at all.

The central question is "Does Thailand need subs at all?"

The Thai Navy is having difficulty identifying publicly convincing reasons to spend a Billion dollars on submarines.

Regards

Pete

Nicky said...

Hi Pete,
That's why Thailand needs to forget about the Yuan class Submarines and go for something smaller or around 500 tons like the Type 210 mod, Ula Class Submarine, Kobben class Submarine and Type 206 class Submarines. Those smaller subs would suit them well for their waters.

I also think the Type 209 would be one option as well and they can get the Type 209 from South Korea or Germany.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky

Both the 209 and Type 210mod weigh over 1,000 tonnes - https://www.thyssenkrupp-marinesystems.com/en/hdw-class-210mod.html

How bout no subs?

Pete

Nicky said...

Hi Pete,
I think for Thailand, the Type 206 would have been one option but I doubt their are any Left for Thailand. So I am thinking that the Type 210Mod or Type 209/1400 mod

Anonymous said...

Its a risk that it will end up like Chakri Naruebet, the small aircraft carrier they have, i.e. become a white elephant that will not be used and mostly be in port.

According to Wikipedia, the Gulf of Thailand has an average depth of 58m, which is greater than the average depth of the Baltic sea (55m) but instead of a maximum depth of 459m in the Baltic sea, the maximum depth in the Gulf of Thailand is only 85m.
I agree with Pete here, either a very small sub or no sub at all, which I think would be the preferred case for Thailand.

Peter Coates said...

Thanks Anonymous

I'll put your depth figures in the text.

A see buying aircraft carrier, HTMS Chakri Naruebet, looked like a good idea at the time https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTMS_Chakri_Naruebet#Design . But the 6-7 Harrier jump jet derivatives (known as Matadors) quickly wore out - negating much of the need for an aircraft carrier.

Australia with its new Canberra Class LHDs (helicopter carriers) has been toying with the option of doing similar ie. placing around 6 F-35s VTOLs on one carrier. Fortunately that appears to be more to do with Abbott's wouldbe military vanity and ex RN carrier alumni hoping for a Falklands scenario. So spending the odd $1.5 Billion for 6 planes (and 2-3 land based trainers) has evaporated.

However Australia's 2015 Defence White Paper may give Abbott's Strike Carrier pretensions life :-)

Regards

Pete

Biswajit Pattanaik said...

Hi Pete,
As we know buying a submarine is simply not a matter related to defence it also comes with its fair share of attachments.Buying & operating a sub is like opening a pandora box.Like from whom to purchase (its an extended tool of diplomacy ;as with any other major weapon/weapon plarform purchase),who are our allies,what could be the implications of this purchase,both internally as well as externally,how will it affect our standing in the international affairs,plus all the points you & other fellow people have posted above.
All in all its looks like Thailand is stuck between a very sticky situation.They have to think & act very very smartly about this mess they gottrn themselves into.
Time for all the Thai decision makers to take a Thai massage ;-) 😈 & relax a bit plus make a wise move.Its upto them now. :-)

Pete on a side note,i want you to comment on a very seroius matter regarding the........................
............2015 Ashes Series-Aus Vs Eng.What's your thought about that series? đŸ˜·

Nicky said...

HI Pete,
If Thailand wants Submarines from China, which is the cheapest, what 500 ton Submarine is available for them. I was thinking the Ming class Submarines such as the Type 035B Ming-class/Type 035G Ming-class and the Song class Submarines from China. It would be way cheaper than the Yuan class Submarine. Like this for example, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XG-J_3TExv0

Anonymous said...

I agree with Pete's pointed question why does Thailand even need submarines?

Vigilis said...

The only subs Thailand will ever need are tourist subs. The current salesmanship by producer countries will make them richer and the buyers poorer. Eventually, most of the nations "securing" subs will find it necessary to lay them up out of commission.

Ukraine had a submarine in its naval fleet --- How many patrols was it making before the latest Russian invasion? Note its current status. See what I mean? Submarines are a very expensive platform to man, maintain and update. Thailand (when Siam) acquired 4 I cxlass subs from Misubishi circa 1936-7. Until 1955 they were in commission with the Thai Navy since 1948. By 1955, all 4 were decommissioned due to shortage of spare parts.

Tell me exactly; what has been the return on thailand's submarine investment, considering the fact that those 4 subs had been in bad shape since 1948?

Smaller nations are being suckered by major nations to buy subs (the U.S. is not part of this shameful salesmanship). Russia and China are being suckered to spend $billions on newer subs (the U.S. is behind this tactic purely to siphon economic resources available for other, more critical needs. Catch up is a very difficult game for China and Russia.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Biswajit Pattanaik

Yes Thailand buying subs from China would intensify their bilateral relationship while further alienating military ruled Thailand from key countries like the US.

It needs to be noted though that Thailand already has 6 Frigates from China, also 2 patrol boats and a large auxiliary oiler replenishment (AOR) ship https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Thai_Navy#Equipment . So the possible future sub purchase is not unprecedented.

Cricket! Australia's abject failure to beat England in the Ashes has caused deep national mourning and soul-searching. Even our Head of State (Governor-General) criticized our cricket team. Our team cannot return to Australia for some years I think - doom, doom ;(

Regards

Pete

Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky [at August 14, 2015 at 3:55 AM]

China doesn't appear to make any subs under about 1,500 tons (surfaced). The aging Mings may be good for the Thai Navy's prestige (in their mings anyway) but hardly a worthwhile weapon system. Songs and Yangs too large I think. South Koorea seems to be the place to buy midget subs 200-300 tons.

Thanks for the Youtube. At https://youtu.be/XG-J_3TExv0?t=18m20s is interesting where they're using a slide system to do maintenance is a confined part of the sub.

Reegards

Pete

Peter Coates said...

Hi Vigilis

Even Australia, with just 6 subs, finds we can't find enough crew than for about 2 and a half subs. One of the criteria for Aus's future subs should be having a small crew.

Yes its curious that after the 1950s Thailand has not needed subs. I think the current sub arms race in Southeast Asia is encouraging navies to have at least 2 (even though they may only be able to crew one).

It seems Thai Army relations with the Navy has been a pivotal influence on whether Thailand has subs. The Washington Times reported http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jul/7/thailand-nears-1-billion-submarine-deal-with-china/?page=2 :

"Thailand’s last submarine was decommissioned in 1951 after navy officers attempted an abortive coup which failed after the army and air force bombed their Bangkok positions, resulting in 68 dead, including dozens of civilians.

“Following the failed coup d’etat of 1951, the government moved to dismantle the navy’s influence in the armed force, stripping it of submarines, a marine force, and war planes,” Khaosod news reported."[formal decommissioning may have been 1955]

Regards

Pete

Nicky said...

Hi Pete,
I think for Thailand, the Type 210 mod, Kobben class Submarine or Ula class Submarines are something that Thailand is looking for.

Nicky said...

Hi pete,
You might want to take a look at this. Pics show China building a Type 039C and here's the link. http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2996

Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky [at August 15, 2015 at 2:41 PM]

Thanks for http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2996

Looks like Western military intelligence will need to pin more definite names on all the variations of Yuan Typre 039As - with new cunfusing variation names 039AGs Bs and Cs.

Interesting how China has moved from Kilo like sails-fins, on the Songs and early Yuans, to obvious European influences.

In http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2996 described as "The notable differences are a modified hull and redesigned conning tower with extrusion at the root of the conning tower in both the bow and stern direction, similar to that of conning tower of Virginia-class or Barracuda-class submarines" .

Chinese modelling, photography and espionage might partially explain these sail changes. Also direct assistance from European submarine builders to China is possible.

Regards

Pete

Nicky said...

Hi Pete,
I suspect the Chinese are learning all they can from the Kilo class SSK and apply it to the Yuan class SSK. I also think the Yuan has inherited some design features from the Kilo class SSK and with the improved variants, inherited some European influences as well. It looks like China is willing to go toe to toe against the Kilo class SSK with it's Yuan class Submarine.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

I guess many say Gulf of Thailand is shallow with a mean depth of 57m but look at Singapore it only has a mean depth of 40m.

Regards
Yuv

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

I just found out recently another interesting thing that is the requirement of RTN that the sub must be able to launch missiles I saw it on a Thai News on YT but I seem to can't find it now I will still try.

Regards
Yuv

Peter Coates said...

Hi Yuv [August 21, 2015 at 9:03 PM and August 21, 2015 at 9:05 PM]

Yes Singapore's subs have AIP so they can hide in deeper parts they can find. In such average shallow water mainly operating at night might be a good idea.

The RTN need for submarine missiles (anti-ship and land attack?) may be an extra reason the RTN want Chinese subs. Because China may be prepared to supply China's reverse engineered version of the Russian Klub missile. The Chinese missile is called the YJ-18 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YJ-18 .

Regards

Pete

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

This was on Thai news on YT it states the reason why RTN chose Chinese subs and compared it with the others subs that pitched their sales to RTN but it is in Thai if you have trouble I will try to translate for you

Regards,
Yuv

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

I forgot weather I posted the link of Thai TV news on the sub https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raDmyt3V-s8

Regards,
Yuv

Peter Coates said...

Thanks Yuv [August 21, 2015 at 11:18 PM and August 21, 2015 at 11:31 PM]

The pictures in the Youtube described the Thai submarine competition well.

Looked like the Chinese submarine on offer (the "S-26T") mounts at least one vertical launch tube.

Regards

Pete



Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

Well in the news it said that the Chinese offered S26T which is larger than the Chinese own Yuan Class sub.
Brand New
AIP
Spare parts package
Full Arms package
Technology Transfer
Able to launch missiles
Training included in package

Regards
Yuv

Nicky said...

Hi Pete,
I do think what Thailand wanted was a Kilo class SSK on the Cheap and what China is offering them is a cheaper version of the Kilo class Submarine in the Yuan class Submarine. Which I think the Yuan class Submarine is simply an evolved Kilo class Submarine.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nicky

From what I understand the Kilo has no AIP and that is one of the requirement and as said the missile used is already in service with the RTN

Regards
Yuv

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

Got pics of the RTN sub simulator http://defense-studies.blogspot.com/2015/04/cabinet-mulls-buying-subs.html

The other day RTN successfully launched a Sea Sparrow with Saab CMS http://www.manager.co.th/IndoChina/ViewNews.aspx?NewsID=9580000099773

Regards
Yuv

Peter Coates said...

Hi Yuv [September 7, 2015 at 1:29 AM]

Interesting simulator but it seems premature Thailand bought a simulator before it has chosen an actual submarine. The simulator may be radically different from the submarine and the simulator may become out-of-date given subs often take 5 years to deliver. It may take till 2021 before Thailand recieves a sub from anybody.

The Sea Sparrow launch is a reminder that any confidential military technology the US sends/sells to Thailand may be transferred to China and perhaps copied by China. Same for Western technology to India finding its way to Russian advisers in India.

Regards

Pete

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

Doubt Thailand would transfer any of these tech to China as RTN overhauls it's own ships without Chinese help.

BTW The Royal Thai Navy Launched M58 Patrol Gun Boat http://defense-studies.blogspot.co.id/2015/09/the-royal-thai-navy-launched-m58-patrol.html

Regards,
Yuv

Peter Coates said...

Hi Yuv [at September 7, 2015 at 7:40 PM]

Yes you have a point that Thailand needs little help with the Chinese built surface warships.

However if Thailand bought Chinese subs Thailand would need much:

- Thai submarine crew and technician training in China for years, and

- likely intensive support in Thailand by Chinese advisers for years.

All providing China with many opportunities to quietly acquire Western military tech and persuade some Thais to quietly work for China as "contractors".

All ageless problems-compromises of foreign arms buying.

Regards

Pete

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

Doubt that as the Chinese have their own missiles such as those similar to SAMS S300.

Regards
Yuv