May 29, 2023

Thailand: State of Submarine Forces in ASEAN 2023 – 1

The first ASEAN country submarine force in my series concerns Thailand. 

1 submarine on order

S26T model Image: courtesy

Matchanu-class S26T variant of the Type 039A Yuan.

1 on order, 2 tentative

Displacement 2,550 tonnes

Selected 2015, First boat ordered 2017 

To be delivered: 2023

Price - US$380 million

The Royal Thai Navy (RTN) is scheduled to receive its first submarine in 2023, but what is not common knowledge is that the Royal Thai Navy is actually the oldest submarine service in ASEAN, as its predecessor, the Royal Siam Navy, operated submarines from 1938 to 1951.


In 1935 Thailand acquired four 350 tonnes coastal submarines from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which were delivered by 1938. This first/original Matchanu-class served through WW2, but as Japan was disarmed post-war, they became unserviceable. They were scrapped following a failed coup attempt by Thai naval officers in the 1951 Manhattan Rebellion.

This explains the deep seated desire of the RTN to operate submarines. 

In 2015, the RTN held a tender process and selected the S26T (an export variant of the Type 039A Yuan), as China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Company (CSOC) offered a very low total price of US$1 billion for all 3. The RTN secured a $390 million procurement contract with CSOC in 2017 for the first boat, but the follow up order for the next two boats has been delayed due to public discontent over the cost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Various reports have stated that the Thai Navy requires submarines for operations in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, as well as to ‘keep up with the neighbors’, with Malaysia’s 13 year old Scorpenes specifically cited.

With a maximum depth of 85 metres, the Gulf of Thailand is relatively shallow for modern submarine operations. While the Andaman Sea is dominated by Indian military bases in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where up 32 Indian Navy ships are based. Also infrastructure upgrades have been completed to accommodate Indian jet fighter and P8I Poseidon patrol aircraft detachments.

In February 2022 it emerged that CSOC specified German-made MTU 396 submarine diesel engines in the Thai contract, which have been subject to an EU arms embargo on China since 1989. While CSOC has offered Chinese-built CHD620 engines as replacements (or a pair of decommissioned PLAN boats), the RTN is considering its options, including canceling the deal.

The engine issue has been reported as settled by April 2023, with ‘Chinese authorities guaranteeing the safety of the engines’. Pakistan’s S26T deal is also mentioned.  

According to, quoting CSOC specifications, the S26T has a displacement of 2,550 tonnes (this may be surfaced displacement as the submerged figure for a Chinese Navy Type 039A is 3,600 tonnes). A S26T also has a nominal crew of 38, with accommodations for 46 bunks, and a separate commander’s quarters. Claimed maximum endurance is 65 days at sea with transit distances of up to 8,000nm (14,800km). These specifications mean that an S26T could easily transit from the RTN’s main naval base at Sattahip to patrol areas in the South China Sea or Bay of Bengal with a small Royal Thai Navy SEALs contingent.

Shawn Chung
May 26, 2023

State of Submarine Forces in ASEAN 2023

Shawn Chung has kindly written 8 articles for publishing on Submarine Matters over the next 2 weeks. This is the first generalised article and the next 7 articles deal with the 7 ASEAN countries that have, or will have, submarines. Most links are in string form but when embedded in text they are bolded. So Shawn writes:

Several news articles (below) sparked my interest in crafting a brief update on the State of Submarine Forces in ASEAN 2023. This is because 6 of the 10 ASEAN members (Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar) are/will be submarine operators in 2023, with the Philippines potentially joining the submarine club in future.


The news articles are:

Arranged in chronological order of submarine service. I will not go into the specifics of each submarine class, rather the main emphasis is on deals, recent history, some political and market issues. I have used OSINT for references.

Shawn Chung

May 26, 2023

May 28, 2023

How Might AUKUS Impact Australian Higher Education?

The Australian National University (ANU) is one of my alma maters. From the ANU’s Woroni comes this excellent, well researched, article which also has some very useful bolded hyperlinks. 


27.5.2023  BY SIOBHAN PERRY 


[A Collins sub]

AUKUS is a security deal between Australia, the UK and the US (hence the name), announced in 2021. It has become synonymous with the “Pillar One” submarine deal, where Australia will be developing a sovereign nuclear-powered submarine capability, including manufacturing eight new nuclear-powered submarines. But first it needs to train a workforce to build these submarines (and captain them too).

AUKUS is a highly debated security pact, with arguments on both sides around costs, ethics, development, and opportunities. One key aspect of the deal is the training of Australians to operate the submarines. Woroni breaks down how such policies could impact students.

Woroni reached out to ANU’s own Dr Elizabeth Williams (an expert on the nuclear workforce and training requirements) to find out what AUKUS may mean for ANU students.

Williams believes there will be expanded career opportunities in areas related to AUKUS and emphasises that this will go beyond the technical careers to operate the ships themselves.

This means that if nuclear science, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, cyber security or hypersonics isn’t your thing, there may still be workforce opportunities related to AUKUS. Australia will need people to deal with the political, social and environmental implications of the agreement. This will likely lead to increased demand for workers in government, industry and academic circles.

There has been talk of future AUKUS-related scholarships for students who wish to train to be in the nuclear workforce. While there is nothing concrete yet in terms of scholarships and programs the Government has pledged $3 billion (out of $368 billion overall) of funding specifically for training.

In addition to this, the Government has pledged $127.3 million over the next four years to fund 4,000 additional Commonwealth Supported Places in STEM disciplines, specifically in support of the nuclear-powered submarine program. Until then, Defence, for example, is offering Nuclear Science and Engineering Undergraduate scholarships, and support for study via the STEM Cadetship program. These scholarships do not require students to work on nuclear submarines or AUKUS-related projects specifically.

On the other hand, some students may find it unfair that HECS fees have increased with inflation, while the Government rolls out scholarships for defence. The 2023 Government Budget has allocated 19 billion AUD over the next four years for the development of the submarines. By contrast, parliamentary research found that “There are limited measures in the Education portfolio relating to higher education in this Budget.”

ANU is of special interest because it has been running highly regarded research and education programs in fundamental nuclear physics for many years. Williams recommends that students who wish to work in the AUKUS space should “seek out opportunities to do research projects at places like the Heavy Ion Accelerator Facility (HIAF) at ANU, because hands-on experience working with nuclear technologies will be advantageous and will give students skills that will allow them to contribute across a range of different disciplines.”

For non-science students who are interested in the politics, ethics, and obligations around AUKUS, Williams recommends looking into ANU’s Nuclear Politics in Asia: challenges and opportunities, or just Politics of Nuclear WeaponsScience Risk and Ethics would also be beneficial.

For current physics and engineering students who are interested in tailoring their degree for a career to do with the nuclear-powered submarines, Williams recommends throwing in an introductory chemistry class. She also recommends doing additional maths and physics courses covering electromagnetism, classical and quantum mechanics, and the physics of matter. Courses which build programming skills will also be advantageous.

An ANU spokesperson told Woroni that the University has had no interaction with the Department of Defence regarding AUKUS scholarships. However, it appears the ANU expects nuclear technology to become a topic of greater focus, as it is currently hiring for three Fellows of Nuclear Stewardship, one each for the College of Asia and the Pacific, the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Cybernetics, and the College of Science.

AUKUS is not beneficial to all students at the ANU, however. Outside of ethical concerns, there exists limitations for students – notably, only Australian citizens may participate in AUKUS programs, ruling out many highly skilled international students. Our own Vice-Chancellor, Brian Schmidt, pointed out another issue for students wishing to follow the AUKUS pathway – there may not be enough academics to teach them. In a submission to the Government’s Defence Strategic Review, the ANU stated “while Australia has developed a strong reputation for expertise on nuclear science, safety and regulation, the current academic workforce is too small to meet the increasing demands for formal training and education that will be required by AUKUS.”

The student union, ANUSA, is strongly opposed to ANU accepting Defence-related scholarship programs. The Student Representatives Council has passed several motions opposing AUKUS and calling on the ANU to reject scholarships related to AUKUS.

Brian Schmidt has labelled AUKUS “one of the biggest training and workforce development challenges Australia has faced.” Whether Australia, and the ANU, meets this challenge, and whether many students wish to work in the AUKUS arena, remains to be seen.”

May 26, 2023

Singapore Navy: Policies, MRCVs, RSS Impeccable on the way

On May 24, 2023 I asked Shawn C. why Singapore was ship size jumping from its six existing 3,200 tonne Formidable-class frigates to six 10,000 tonne Multi-Role Combat Vessels (MRCVs) (see more diagrams and details on SubMatts here). Why does Singapore, with a small area and small population need such large, presumably long range, ships? Is it a case of having a smaller number of superior MRCVs to Indonesia’s 2021 order for more numerous frigates ie. 6 new FREMM frigates, 2 Type 31 variants (of the Iver Huitfeldt pattern) and 2 used Maestrale-class frigates?

Might Singapore aim to contribute to a multinational fleet allied to the US against China one day?


Later on May 24 part of Shawn’s reply included:  

Singapore is 'friend to all', though it buys Western European and American weapons systems because we can now afford 'best in the world' systems. 

Singapore openly participates in military exercises with many countries, and there was a naval exercise with the Chinese Navy (PLA-N) in late April 2023, followed by the ASEAN-India exercise - which saw seven ASEAN navies participate - sailing from Singapore to Subic Bay. 

Singapore's relations with our neighbour Indonesia are actually cordial, we rarely have issues with them, and in fact just finalised a dispute about Flight Information Regions (FIRs) - Singapore has international flight management over Indonesia's  Natuna and Riau islands. 

The Singaporean and Indonesian navies cooperate with joint Malacca Straits patrols, and Indonesia has to cover a lot more water than Singapore, especially the Celebes Sea and Philippines Sea. See map below:

Map courtesy Asia Society.

The MRCVs are most obviously designed for persistent wide area surveillance, and Singapore's priority has always been keeping in sea lines of communication (SLOCs) open. The greater range of the Type 218SG will [extend further than the MRCVs' coverage.] 

[Shawn identified useful details of RSS Impeccable (the second Invincible-class/Type-218SG submarine) being placed on heavy load carrier Rolldock Storm in Kiel on May 18, 2023. Rolldock Storm still appears to be in Kiel. Presumably it and RSS Impeccable will be in Singapore by July 2023, if not earlier].

May 23, 2023

Labor Rushing Bill Exempting SSN Reactors from Environmental Protections

Australia's green left website comes up with some excellent articles, like this one:

"Labor rushes through a bill to exempt AUKUS nuclear submarines from environmental protections


Image: Green Left with a BAE Systems image of a design for an AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine.

Labor has a bill before parliament which, if passed, would exempt nuclear plants on nuclear-propelled submarines from two other important laws — the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The Defence Legislation Amendment (Naval Nuclear Propulsion) Bill 2023 aims to insert a paragraph into these two laws to exempt “a naval nuclear propulsion plant related to use in a conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarine” from the “requirements” of each of them when they refer to “nuclear power plants”.

This is not only alarming, it is illogical to make a distinction between controls and protections on a nuclear plant providing power to propel conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines and a land-based nuclear power plant: it is still a nuclear power plant.

In fact, a nuclear power plant on a submarine needs the same, or more, protection requirements as a nuclear power plant on land.

The uranium which will be used in the proposed SSN (a hull classification system denoting nuclear-powered submarines) is enriched to the level used in nuclear weapons.

It is more dangerous to the naval staff than conventional uranium-fired nuclear power plants, as they live and work in very close proximity to the nuclear power plant powering the submarine.

When docked in a port, residents living nearby are exposed to the toxic impact of possible radiation leaks from the submarine’s nuclear power plant.

If passed, the amendments to exempt a nuclear power plant on board a nuclear-propelled submarine from the safety requirements of these two Acts amount to a betrayal of naval staff operating the submarines and the wider public especially those living close to the ports servicing these lethal weapons.

Members of parliament have never been given an opportunity to discuss or vote on joining the trilateral AUKUS security treaty which allowed for the nuclear-powered submarine technology is to be transferred to Australia.

It has never been given an opportunity to discuss the decision to buy and/or acquire nuclear-propelled submarines.

Here is one — possibly the only — opportunity for MPs to voice their opinion on one aspect of the nuclear-propelled submarine aspect of AUKUS.

The Senate has referred this dangerous bill to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee. It will report by June 9.

It was only introduced and read on May 10 and submissions to the inquiry close on May 26. The government is clearly trying to get its dangerous amendments through with as little discussion as possible.

You can send your opposition submission here.

There are many reasons this bill is irresponsible and must be opposed.

1. The AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines are to be deployed in a hunter-killer role, and would be subject to enemy attack. A torpedo attack on a nuclear-powered submarine would release toxic radiation from the power plant and its enriched uranium fuel: this toxic pollution would remain for generations to come.

2. It is authoritarian to minimise public and parliamentary discussion about such a move.

3. It is irresponsible because the AUKUS nuclear-propelled submarines depend on US technology to be built as well as for their maintenance and operation.

4. This means that Labor’s alignment to US foreign policy will have to be maintained to gain and maintain access to this technology. This means Australia loses the ability to make decisions in the best interests of its people.

5. It may well draw Australia into a US war against China, which will lead to economic distress not just for us but the nations and peoples of the Indo-Pacific region.

6. Australia is not under military threat from China, or any other country; it does not need nuclear-propelled hunter-killer submarines — designed for forward deployment.

7. The huge cost — $368 billion [Australian dollars] with substantial blow-outs expected — means less ability to address serious social needs including public housing, hospitals, education, nurses and teachers and transitioning to renewable energy.

[Submissions to the Defence Legislation Amendment (Naval Nuclear Propulsion) Bill 2023 [Provisions] close on May 26. Make yours now here. Bevan Ramsden is a long-time peace activist. He edits the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network’s monthly e-publication Voice.]"

May 22, 2023

USN Submarines Using Australia's Fleet Base West

Pete Comments

The future projections in the article above for US submarines using Australia's Fleet Base West near Perth may be essentially Biden's promises that may not be pursued if he loses the November 2024 Election.

US nuclear submarines have been visiting Australia on a yearly basis for more than a decade (see this SubMatts article). UK SSNs visit about once every five years.

The US did have a plan decades back to use Fleet Base West as a crew changeover port BUT this plan was shelved, parhaps, in part because of cost for the USN.

The permanent US SSN Base at Guam and stopover base at Yokosuka, Japan, are closer to China's near seas than Australia's Fleet Base West. But the unique value of Fleet Base West is SSNs from it can intercept Chinese and Russian SSNs and SSBNs using the Southern Ocean route. That route is between Australia and Antarctica, between the southern Pacific and southern Indian Oceans. That route is viable in the nuclear submarine era because of nuclear submarines' rapid speed and unlimited range.