Thailand Postpones Purchase of Chinese Submarines Amid New COVID-19 Budget Cuts
(Source: Sputnik News; posted April 24, 2020)
Forced to make substantial military budget cuts, Bangkok is moving to suspend a number of arms deals, including the Royal Thai Navy’s (RTN) anticipated procurement of two additional S26T submarines from Beijing.

The RTN revealed Wednesday that the service will be foregoing anticipated purchases in the coming months as Bangkok combats the economic fallout from the global COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic.

While a number of military orders are expected to be canceled or postponed in accordance with the shifting of government funds, the RTN will notably have to renegotiate a purchase timeline for the remaining two S26T submarines included in its $1.1 billion deal with China back in 2017. At the time, the two governments agreed that payments on the trio of submarines could occur in a total of 17 installments over an 11-year period.

“We put the purchase of the second and third submarines on hold,” RTN spokesman Vice Admiral Prachachart Sirisawat told BenarNews on April 22, claiming payments will be delayed until fiscal year 2021 - beginning October 31.

Ironically, the RTN traveled to Wuhan, China, in September 2019 - less than three months prior to the novel coronavirus’s emergence in the city - to attend a keel laying ceremony held by China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation. The event signaled the start of the shipbuilding group’s construction on the first submarine - which remains on track for a 2023 delivery.

It’s unclear whether the payment renegotiations will impact the slated 2027 completion of the remaining submarines.

It’s worth noting the S26T is a Thailand-specific, modified export version of China's Yuan-class (Type 041) diesel-electric submarine. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) noted that a freeze has also been placed on the construction of a related maintenance facility and pier for the first submarine.

Similarly, the Royal Thai Air Force has also faced budget constraints and was forced to suspend the nearly $75,000,000 purchase of two South Korean T-50 Golden Eagle aircraft after suffering the loss of over 20% of its spending allocations for this fiscal year, according to the SCMP. Around $126 million reserved for the RTN was also redirected toward fighting COVID-19 in the country.

Thailand has reported at least 2,839 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 50 deaths related to the contagious disease, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard. Bangkok alone accounts for over half of the confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Thailand, and nine out of the country’s 77 provinces have yet to report any infections at all, Bloomberg reported.

After total COVID-19 cases in Thailand surpassed 400 last month, Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang issued a partial lockdown order for the capital that was initially slated to run from March 22 to April 12. Restaurants, assorted stores offering food and other essential businesses were permitted to remain open.

Soon after, a state of emergency was declared in the capital, before a similar advisory was issued nationwide, and a partial lockdown of Thailand was imposed by officials through April.

While the country’s coronavirus numbers are dwarfed by tragedies occurring in the US and select European countries, officials with Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health have stressed the importance of social distancing and staying indoors, as there is a nationwide shortage of novel coronavirus tests and other related material.

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Thailand Cuts Defense Budget, Suspends Military Acquisition Projects
(Source: Forecast International; issued April 23, 2020)
Thailand becomes the latest defense spending domino to fall in Asia as governments look to shift funding priorities toward novel coronavirus (COVID-19) economic and civil relief packages.

With Thailand’s economy currently expected to shrink in 2020 by around 5.3 percent, the Thai government under Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha plans to re-appropriate money removed from the defense earmark toward a broader THB1.9 trillion ($58.57 billion) stimulus package aimed at relieving immediate pressures brought on by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cuts to the defense earmark for 2020 amount to THB18 billion ($555 million), knocking the overall budget down from the original outlay of THB231.7 billion ($7.14 billion) to THB213.7 billion ($6.59 billion), an overall reduction of about 7.8 percent.

Suspended military procurement programs include two T-50 Golden Eagle lead-in fighter trainers (LIFTs) from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), and plans for ordering a second and third Chinese Type 041 diesel-electric attack submarine (Yuan class in the People’s Liberation Army Navy). Plus, a planned order for 100 M1126 Stryker 8×8 infantry combat vehicles (ICVs) was halved and some artillery programs for the Thai Army were frozen.

With respect to the three major service branches of the armed forces, the Thai Army cut its budget by 56 percent, the Navy by 33 percent, and the Air Force by 23 percent.

The cuts come at a time of rising public distrust of the military.

While overall case numbers of coronavirus infections remain low in Thailand at under 3,000 persons, the emergency lockdowns imposed last month (which involve enforcement of curfews by the military) have resulted in ballooning unemployment, and the short-term effect on the country’s vital tourism industry is likely to prove devastating.

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