Further updated: Colonel Blimps still want their blimp

27 09 2012

PPT sometimes finds it difficult to post on the shenanigans at the Army. Difficult because the silly duffers we call Colonel Blimps, who run the Army seem so dense that they repeatedly make themselves look like hopeless fools.

Perhaps the best case for this is on the continuing efforts to make their failed zeppelin fly. Even if they get it to fly it is still a standing joke.

The latest report, at the Bangkok Post, explains that the “army has agreed to pay 50 million baht more to an American airship producer to make its 350-million-baht airship fly for the first time since its procurement.” They refer to a Sky Dragon that sags near the ground in an Army hangar.

The report states: “An army source said the army signed a contract with Aria International Inc on Sept 20 to make the surveillance airship stay up in the air. The company was originally hired to provide the airship, which has not flown since its arrival in the country.” The contractor is confident it can make the airship fly by November.

An earlier photo when the Sky Dragon was inflated and operated

Apparently, “Army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered the contract because he does not want the airship to rest in its hangar in Pattani province any longer.”

The airship has been unable to fly since its delivery about two years ago. The army  accepted the airship in July 2011 and is said to have cost the Army “about 25 million baht” to keep the zeppelin puffed up. Essentially, the airship, ordered during the tenure of former army chief Anupong Paojinda, doesn’t do anything but soak up taxpayer funds.

PPT has posted plenty on this sorry story – see here and here. The revealing part of this story is that the Army has gone back to Aria International. Long ago we linked to information on this company where we said:

Correspondent “Reg” [at Bangkok Pundit] then turns to the company involved and its website. He says: “Note its last stock trade was 1 cent. Have a look through the site and see if you have doubts about the company founded in mid-2008 and with 12 employees. How on earth did the RTA [Royal Thai Army] even know about them? It seems that one of the principals had previous experience with the RTA. According to their press releases, the RTA is their only client. It also seems that they are agents for the real manufacturers.”

We checked on them again today. As far as we can tell, the company no longer maintains a website, it has filed Form15 with the Securities and Exchange Commission, “voluntarily suspending its reporting obligations.”

As a result of filing the Form 15, the Company will no longer be required to file annual and quarterly reports with the SEC. The Company took this action in order to focus its resources on further developing and marketing its unique services. The Company’s common stock will continue to be eligible for public trading only now it will occur through the Pink Sheets (www.pinksheets.com) quotations system instead of the OTC Bulletin Board.

The last time we can see that the company’s shares were traded, it was for a fraction of a cent. It is no longer even a penny company! To be accurate, the last quoted close for the company was for one five-thousandth of a cent! There’s no recent news for the company.

So who is the Army paying?

Update 1: It seems the Army is reading PPT and is responding to our post above. A report at The Nation even continues the “blimp” terminology. The report states the the repairs are going to cost 50 million baht “for two foreign companies to repair and further equip its grounded airship in the South [stating it] was permitted because a maintenance agreement with the seller had expired.” It promises its zeppelin will fly by November…. Then, new, yes, new “optical surveillance and signal relaying equipment will be installed…”.

The Army says that the manufactured by Worldwide Aeros Corp (more here), is “one of the companies awarded the new contract.” Is the other the seemingly defunct Aria International?

Update 2: The Bangkok Post reports an “army source” as stating that the “airship supplier, Aria International Incorporated (AII), had lost contact with the army and had probably been dissolved.” We guess the company had much business other than that with the Thai military brass.





The army’s expensive balloon deflated

4 12 2010

It has been some time since PPT saw any stories about the army’s ill-fated zeppelin. The last time we posted on the so-called Sky Dragon airship, we said:

PPT has recorded several posts on the army’s Sky Dragon zeppelin and other very large expenditures which are going to be mired in corruption for years to come. Look here and follow the links. The Bangkok Post has yet another story on the ill-fated and ill-considered – just plain stupid, in fact – Sky Dragon.

The army, which approved the purchase in July, has now deflated the airship “at its hangar in Pattani before the army returns the craft to the US manufacturer, Aria International.” We wish them luck in even locating the company. Its website has been turned off for more than 6 weeks [Update, 4 Dec 2010: the site is running but has minimal information. Strikes us that the company has done a runner]. The army’s representatives “will travel to the US next week to discuss a replacement with the supplier. They will also discuss the possibility of repairing the craft.” Then this: “Deputy army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is poised to become the next army commander-in-chief, yesterday said … [h]e thought it was normal for the airship to have leaks as a result of weather conditions or storage problems.”

It seems Prayuth is going to continue the usual army dissembling over shady and dippy purchases.

See PPT’s earlier posts on this corrupt deal before, here, here and here.

An earlier photo when the Sky Dragon was inflated

Now the Bangkok Post tells us that the air ship is, and we quote: “out of order.” When was it in working order? PPT has not seen any report that the airship was meeting any specifications or criteria, so this is hardly news! Nor is this: “The supplier has not contacted the army since the army returned the aircraft and requested a replacement for it back in September. The US company had promised to replace the airship by this month.” Would anyone believe this of a penny company?

And, the expected position of the company: “The source added that the local representative of the US supplier has closed its office, leaving the army to repair the faulty equipment on the airship itself. But the job has proved almost impossible as the army says the company did not provide a repair manual. ” Of course they didn’t.

PPT guesses that Aria International was created as a kind of shell for those who were siphoning the funds for this “project.”

The report adds that “Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has been briefed about the airship problem, which first came to light during his predecessor’s tenure.” See Prayuth’s daft comment above. What has been his involvement with the purchase?

The report then suggests that “Members of the army’s committee which approved delivery of the airship are also worried they could end up being punished, said the source.” But read our earlier post, excerpted here, suggesting that it is the army bosses who need to be punished:

The Bangkok Post (5 March 2010) has reported that the 350 million baht airship is being handed over to the army today in Pattani, following a 6-month delay. The report notes “widespread criticism over whether the airship would be effective,” but says that the army has actually expedited delivery.

Apparently this has “caused a great deal of discomfort among pilots and members of the airship’s inspection committee as they fear being held accountable if it is not ready to go into service…”. Some of the committee went so far as to resign. Using an unnamed source, the Post says delays were because “it cannot fly and function according to specifications. The source said the army would not fine the company for the delay as the project had proved more complicated after the army requested the airship be fitted with more technical devices.”

Some balloons fly. Are these hot air balloons (http://twitpic.com/3cm8tz/full) using army hot air for inflation?

The Post article then includes more juicy details of the complete farce that accompanies the enrichment of the brass:

“The craft needs to work in sync with ground equipment. But the equipment has not been used for many months and the system is not working properly through lack of use. The armoured vehicle purchased for use together with the airship is also out of action with a broken alternator which cannot be replaced in this country, the source said. Two out of five cameras attached to the airship can record videos but cannot send a streaming video signal to the main control system in real time, as was expected, said the source.

Then this classic bottom line: “More importantly, since we didn’t buy the complete system that also includes broadcasting and video file conversion features, the equipment is useless,’ said the source.”

So will anyone in the military-backed government nominally headed by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva do anything? We doubt it because the military is seen as “entitled” to rewards for its excellent service in suppressing opposition and allowing Abhisit his position.





More on the army’s deflated blimp

18 08 2010

PPT has recorded several posts on the army’s Sky Dragon zeppelin and other very large expenditures which are going to be mired in corruption for years to come. Look here and follow the links. The Bangkok Post has yet another story on the ill-fated and ill-considered – just plain stupid, in fact – Sky Dragon.

The army, which approved the purchase in July, has now deflated the airship “at its hangar in Pattani before the army returns the craft to the US manufacturer, Aria International.” We wish them luck in even locating the company. Its website has been turned off for more than 6 weeks. The army’s representatives “will travel to the US next week to discuss a replacement with the supplier. They will also discuss the possibility of repairing the craft.” Then this: “Deputy army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is poised to become the next army commander-in-chief, yesterday said … [h]e thought it was normal for the airship to have leaks as a result of weather conditions or storage problems.”

It seems Prayuth is going to continue the usual army dissembling over shady and dippy purchases.





Lubricating the military

24 07 2010

The Abhisit Vejjajiva government owes its genesis and its continuation in power to the military. Not only did the military brass act as a collective midwife in the birth of the Abhisit government and then protect it with its guns, but it is also the essential force that has molded the Abhisit regime as an authoritarian order that has rolled back democracy and human rights gains made over the past three decades.

Some would argue that the civilians – Abhisit, his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij and so on – are puppets for the military. PPT thinks this is a misinterpretation. In fact, this government might be fronted by Oxford graduates like Abhisit and Korn presenting liberal exteriors to the world, but they are deeply elitist and authoritarian in their political actions. They are deeply committed to conservative and hierarchical institutions like the modern Siamese twins, the monarchy and military. They have demonstrated a lust for dictatorial rule.

In this sense, they are not puppets but the civilian arm of a regime that merges the interests of the conservative elite in the palace, military and business. Hence it is no surprise to see the civilian government rewarding its military wing and bowing to the elders who have created, saved and developed this regime. The Bangkok Post story of the day is about how much that bowing and gratitude will cost the taxpayer.

The latest “requests” from the government’s brothers with arms are for: a new infantry division in the North said to cost about 10 billion baht over several years, a 5 billion baht procurement for 121 armoured personnel carriers (see PPT’s recent post on this); the continuing request for the 350 million baht reconnaissance airship that PPT has repeatedly posted on; 134 million baht to order 1,200 Mini Tavor rifles for special warfare soldiers and the 1st Army; and 16 Enstrom 480B light helicopters costing 1.2 billion baht. On the latter, the report says that the army will order these, but other reports say the order was placed in February.

Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon is said to have approved army chief Anupong Paojinda’s request to allocate 10 billion baht “developing a new infantry division in Chiang Mai to secure the northern border with Burma and Laos, suppress drugs and cope with red shirt protesters…”. Note the last phrase. The army considers the crushing of the red shirts to be ongoing and wants a further 25,000 soldiers in the North. It is worth noting that the army has a remarkably dismal track record in border skirmishes with other nation’s forces.

On the failed and leaky zeppelin, only this week, an army committee “accepted the cameras and downlink system of a 350 million baht reconnaissance airship even though many problems have emerged with the imported airship.” The warranty is about to expire, but the army wants to continue shoveling money down a known rat hole. But rat holes also provide commissions and under-the-table lucre.

PPT commented on the army’s order for 96 BTR-3E1 armoured personnel carriers in a recent post. The new order for 5 billion baht comes without a single delivery of the 96 ordered years ago and from the very same supplier.

According to a source, Gen Anupong plans to ask the cabinet next week to approve in principle another order for 121 more BTR-3E1 APCs worth nearly 5 billion baht from the Ukraine. The total spent is likely to be more than 9 billion baht, but so far, not one is on the ground. The first delivery, of just two vehicles, is expected in September. (PPT wonders if their usefulness might be as artificial reefs, joining the Chinese tanks that filled military pockets but were essentially useless purchases in the late 1980s.)

Of course, the first order originated under the military-appointed government of General Surayudh Chulanont, the on-again-off-again privy councilor in a totally opaque deal, later approved by prime minister Samak Sundaravej, who tried his best to get the military on-side with his elected government, and largely failed.

Helicopters have been high on the list of purchases. The Post report says that when “red shirt protesters rallied last March, Gen Anupong sought cabinet approval to import six Mi-17 helicopters worth about 2 billion baht from Russia…. Last year the army chief ordered three Black Hawk helicopters worth 2 billion baht.” The report states that the army will shortly seek “cabinet consent to import 16 Enstrom 480B light helicopters worth 1.2 billion baht from the US.” Estrom list their Thailand representative as M Landarch Co., Ltd.

PPT wondered if Aria International, the penny company in the U.S. that supplied the airship was somehow involved in helicopter deals with the Thai army. Suspiciously, the site is down and “under construction.” However, see some details of the zeppelin deal here and here, but no helicopters are mentioned other than upgrades to existing army ships to allow use with the deflated airship.

All of this adds up to just under 25 billion baht. That’s not small change and handsome reward for crushing the opposition and maintaining repression. As the Post says, “The military helps the government confront protesters and is rewarded with opportunities to order weaponry…. Controversies over the wisdom of the purchases tends to be ignored, such is the government’s eagerness to please.”

Expect the military to continue to be an internal security force for several more years. Repression will continue.





Corruption and the military

18 02 2010

Pravit Rojanaphruk at The Nation (18 February 2010) sees a good side to the GT200 scandal, covered extensively by various newspapers and Bangkok Pundit. Pravit thinks the “GT200 hoax is forcing scientists to encourage Thais to become more rational.” He thinks that “superstition trumps logic in this country.”

He asks: “How else can one explain Army chief General Anupong Paochinda and forensics department chief Pornthip Rojanasunand insisting on using the so-called bomb detectors even though a Science Ministry test had proved that they are basically useless?”

Perhaps another way of looking at the issue is to think that corruption trumps all. In the Thai military, getting a snout firmly lodged in the trough is the most important task for all good generals.

The GT200 and related device purchases have cost Thailand of probably close to 1 billion baht, and that’s not counting the cost of deaths, human rights abuses and harassment that have derived from the use of a divining rod.

Wassana Nanuam (The Bangkok Post, 18 February 2010) points out that army commander Anupong Paojindawas the one who approved the purchase of more than 200 of these so-called bomb detectors at the price of 1.4 million baht each in 2009.

She says that the GT200 was first purchased by the air force in 2005, when future coup leader Air Chief Marshal Chalit Phukpasuk was commander. After that, [2006 coup leader] Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, then army commander and chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), became impressed with the device. He asked that two of them be sent for trial. They were used at that time by a unit which provided security coverage for then prime minister Surayud Chulanont.

The devices are mainly used in the south where Wassana says the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) now employs about 60,000 personnel in the South. The army has put in about 40,000 soldiers from 55 battalions around the country. The budget for the southern operation is more than 100 billion baht a year. A lot of the money has gone into the procurement of weapons.

She then turns to the army’s recent 350 million baht purchase of an advanced zeppelin which the army has named Sky Dragon.” The airship was purchased from the US company, Arial International Cooperation. Wassana explains that the airship is the brainchild of Gen Anupong and his second-in-command, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. They envision the airship as a sky-based surveillance and command station.” Leaving aside obvious questions about this assumption, the problem is that the airship can’t do what it is meant to, and there has even been trouble getting it into the air. The airship has seepage holes and it initially costs 2.8 million baht to inflate and then 280,000 baht a month to top-up. There has been considerable criticism.

The army decided to put on a show two weeks ago that was meant to deflect criticism. Thai PBS dutifully carried a long and generally positive report on this show. However, even the show flight was a failure and, according to Wassana, it remains in a hanger.

General Anupong had reportedly agreed to purchase three airships for the army. Wassana asks: is it a bigger sham than the GT200?” Maybe she meant “scam”?

At Bangkok Pundit on 6 February 2010, a comment was added by Reg, encouraging Bangkok Pundit to look into the zeppelin case. “Reg” stated: Why this machine and not drones as used almost everywhere else for this kind of recon work? What’s the track record of this model? What’s the price paid elsewhere? Have you seen dirigibles used in other insurgency situations? Seems like there’s a smell there as soon as it is wheeled out. A quick Google seems to suggest that this is a Thailand first (a manned airship for counter-insurgency).

Correspondent “Reg” then turns to the company involved and its website. He says: “Note its last stock trade was 1 cent. Have a look through the site and see if you have doubts about the company founded in mid-2008 and with 12 employees. How on earth did the RTA [Royal Thai Army] even know about them? It seems that one of the principals had previous experience with the RTA. According to their press releases, the RTA is their only client. It also seems that they are agents for the real manufacturers .

Reg concludes: “I remain suspicious, but maybe that’s just because everything the military buys involves commissions etc. But, hey, you might want to congratulate the RTA for a 10 million dollar gamble that might show the world of counter-insurgency the way forward via a penny company.

PPT agrees with Reg; there is a smell and the odor is money and corruption.

On a broader note, these are just examples of what happens when a military is politicized, when it runs a coup, and then has its budget increased by leaps and bounds. This is why there are so many very wealthy generals. This is what happens when a government owes its position to the military. The generals are in charge and they are hauling in the loot as fast as they can.

There are plenty of other examples. Just today the navy is reported to want two used submarines. Maybe they can dock them next to the used and idle aircraft carrier they bought several years ago, with planes that no longer fly.

Forget superstition, the beliefs driving these events are power, arrogance and filthy lucre.








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