The Royal Thai Navy claims it urgently needs more submarines to compete with other Asian countries. The assistant commander made the claim aimed at persauding a skeptical public that the nation should invest in its military in a white paper sent to reporters, the Bangkok Post reported Thursday.
The navy's submarine-procurement committee wants to order three S26T submarines from China. It could take up to eight years for Thailand to acquire a new submarine.
U.S. officials have been closely watching the government's growing ties to China in recent months, DefenseNews reported. At the same time, the U.S. doesn't want to cozy up with Thailand's military leaders. A military junta declared a coup in May 2014 and created the National Council for Peace and Order.
"The U.S. is giving the junta the cold shoulder," said Martin Sebastian, head of the Centre for Maritime Security and Diplomacy, Maritime Institute of Malaysia.
The sub purchase could further increase tensions between Thailand and the United States as Washington tries to keep China from strengthening its military influence in Asia, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.
"It is building into a kind of brinkmanship from Bangkok which will require the U.S. to weigh its values and interests carefully," he told DefenseNews. "Having China on its side is hugely important to the Thai military because it confers 'face' and international legitimacy while Western countries generally shunned and downgraded dealings with Thailand."
Thailand's military could use a modern makeover. It purchased a Spanish aircraft carrier in the 1990s but struggled to maintain it. Its nine AV-8 Harrier jump jet fighters are no longer in working condition. Thailand hasn't had a submarine in more than 60 years. It has tried to purchase submarines from various countries, including Germany and South Korea, since the 1990s, the Diplomat reported.
South Asia has been in a submarine race in recent years. Singapore has four active submarines and intends to buy two more from Sweden. Vietnam bought six submarines from Russia to add to its fleet of four subs. Germany and South Korea will bring the number of submarines in Indonesia to five by 2018. Malaysia unveiled two French-designed subs in 2012.