11.26.07, 4:26 AM ET
BANGKOK (Thomson Financial) – Thailand’s defense ministry said Monday it will seek 300 billion baht from the next government to buy 10 more fighter jets, a submarine and other weaponry.
The military has already ordered 12 Swedish-made JAS-39 Gripen fighters at a cost of 34.4 billion baht.
Some of the spending on those jets will be folded into the new budget, which will cover a ten-year period from 2009, the ministry’s spokesman Lieutenant General Pichasanu Puutchakarn said.
He said the new weaponry was needed to bring Thailand on a level with neighbouring countries and to help fight a separatist insurgency that has claimed 2,700 lives over four years in Muslim-majority southern provinces.
‘In response to changing circumstances we are facing, including the southern insurgency and the rising threat of terrorism in the world, Thailand needs greater capabilities to defend our country,’ Pichasanu said.
‘For example, some of our neighbors already have a submarine. We need to make a decision now so that one will be available to us in the next five to 10 years,’ he said.
In addition to a submarine, the plan also calls for 10 more fighter jets over a decade starting from 2009, he added.
The military has been on a shopping spree since seizing power in a bloodless coup last year.
Since the takeover, military spending has skyrocketed to 140 billion baht for 2008, up from 29 billion baht the year before the coup.
Last month Thailand announced it would buy 12 Gripen fighters, made by Sweden’s Saab, by 2017. The military also ordered 96 Ukrainian armoured vehicles for 133 million dollars in August, and is looking at other weapons from Israel.
The military says the spending is needed to modernize Thai forces, which have been using equipment that dates back to the Vietnam War, noting that defence spending had been on hold since the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
Pichasanu said the government aims to boost the ratio of defense spending from the current 1.5 percent of GDP to 2.0 percent over the next decade.
The planned budget will have to be submitted to the government that will be installed after elections on December 23, the first polls since the putsch that overthrew twice elected premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thai military plans hefty shopping list
Mon Nov 26, 2007 8:42am GMT
Thailand’s armed forces will submit a 10-year, $8.8 billion (4.3 billion pound) shopping list for a submarine, warplanes and other hardware to the new civilian government after elections next month, officials said on Monday.
The military, which overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup last year, said the spending spree was necessary for Thailand to keep up with its better-equipped neighbours.
“Every country knows what its neighbours have and what it needs to maintain the balance of power,” Lieutenant General Pitsanu Puchakarn told Reuters after a weekend meeting of armed forces chiefs.
“If we don’t think about these issues now, it will be too late a decade from now,” he said.
The military has faced criticism for buying new weapons at a time when the country’s economic growth has slowed due to post-coup political uncertainty.
But Pitsanu said the military chiefs proposed to raise defence spending to 1.8 percent of GDP in the first five years to 2014 and to 2.0 percent from 2015-19.
That compared to 1.58 percent of GDP this year.
Singapore, which has the best-equipped military in southeast Asia, spends about 4.0 percent of GDP on defence.
Thai Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas has said the military needed new tanks, ships, fighters and helicopters after several years of lean budgets following the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis.
The military-appointed government has already approved the 6.7 billion baht ($200 million) purchase of Israeli guns, Ukrainian armoured vehicles and Chinese missiles.
Last month, the air force said it planned to buy six Swedish-made Gripen fighters for 19.5 billion baht, with a second batch of six to be reviewed by the new government.
High on the navy’s wish list is a submarine to patrol the Andaman Sea and for joint patrols of the Malacca Strait with Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam.
The Navy’s first submarine would cost more than 40 billion baht, Pitsanu said, and join a Thai fleet that includes southeast Asia’s first aircraft carrier.
The Spanish-built Chakri Naruebet cost $230 million when Thailand took delivery in 1997, but high operating costs have kept it mostly in port.
($1 = 33.80 baht)
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; editing by Darren Schuettler)
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