Army and Ukraine purchases

5 01 2013

What is it that sees the Royal Thai Army buying a considerable amount of its kit from the Ukraine?

Thai generals shopping in the Ukraine

Thai generals shopping in the Ukraine

In earlier posts, PPT has discussed the purchase of armored personnel carriers from the Ukraine. Back then, we first posted about the lack of transparency on military spending that saw the account of the army “seeking approval to buy an additional 121 armoured personnel carriers from the Ukraine even though it has yet to receive any of the vehicles it ordered three years ago.” Apparently, according to a Bangkok Post story, “[then] army chief Anupong Paojinda has decided to spend his forces’ leftover funds for this year on 121 APCs from the Ukraine, which has yet to deliver the 96 vehicles ordered in 2007.” The story on the APCs became a long one. As might be expected, there were questions regarding cost and possible corruption and commissions and the billions shoveled to the military by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. Naturally, there were also problems with the APCs suggesting issues like those surrounding the Army’s infamous deflating, crashing, and senseless purchase of a zeppelin from a non-company in the U.S.

At the Bangkok Post there is a report that Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha says the Ukraine will deliver its first batch of T-84 Oplot battle tanks in May. The first post PPT had on this was back in May 2011, when the Abhisit government rushed to spend money and to buy more support from the military in a 18-hour marathon cabinet meeting that, amongst other spending, included  “a budget of 7 billion baht for the army to buy 54 T-84 OPLOT 54A tanks from the Ukraine…”.

Nuamthong, taxi and tank

A Wikipedia Commons photo

Tanks in Thailand are synonymous with the military coup. They are most often used in Thailand when the Army is thinking about or engaged in a coup.

One of the most significant moments in the development of opposition to the 2006 coup was when on 30 September 2006, Nuamthong Praiwan drove his taxi, spray painted with the words “[CDR is] destroying the country,” and “Sacrificing life”, into an M41  tank at the Royal Plaza. Nuamthong, who later committed suicide in another political statement against the coup, said: “I did it intentionally to protest the junta that has destroyed our country, and I painted all the words myself…”.

It seems that five tanks will arrive in May, with another 50 tanks due by the end of 2015. The army has ordered a grand total of 200 of these tanks. Like the zeppelin, it seems that the Thai military is the only buyer for this tank, at least at present. To us, that solitary fact should sound alarm bells that ring out with sounds like “corruption” and “commissions.”


In coup livery?

Add that to the fact that Prayuth has “had requested a speedier delivery of the battle tanks.” Recall that the delivery of the APCs was repeatedly delayed while the Army ordered more even when not a single APC had been delivered and there were problems with the engines. Another tell-tale sign  of “issues” is Prayuth’s need to affirm that “he had inspected an Oplot tank during a recent trip to Ukraine and believed the army was getting good value for money in terms of firepower and combat capabilities.” As the Post reports, the “procurement drew criticism from soldiers when the deal was announced in 2011.”

Some in the timid Yingluck Shinawatra government must be thinking that they may see the tanks clattering on Bangkok’s streets against an elected government some time in the future or whether they may be used to threaten Cambodia in a PAD-inspired, xenophobic border clash.

Armored personnel carrier costs

21 09 2010

A regular reader has contributed this post for PPT.

Ukrainian BTR-3

Thailand reportedly plans to buy a further 100 or so BTR-3 armoured personnel carriers from Ukraine with a budget of 4.6 billion baht which equals $149 million, or $1.49 million a piece. There have been suggestions the purchase price has been inflated by corruption in the purchasing process. Of course, because of the long history of corruption associated with the military’s purchases, such suspicions are always there.

A brief survey of the web does not bring to light a list price for a BTR-3.

This APC is a derivative of a Soviet design with roots in the 1960s and 70s. That might suggest the price could be quite low. On the other hand if it has been upgraded with advanced alloys and other materials to increase its survivability on the battlefield then the price may be quite high. It is unclear if the Thai order includes the optional Kevlar  liner to further increase protection for troops riding in the vehicle.

Russian BTR-80

The original choice of Deutz engines from Germany fell foul of export restrictions.

The price indicated by the Thai budget bears comparison with prices for other armoured vehicles. A T80U main battle tank, designed by the Soviet Union, can sell for $2.2 million. This tank has advanced alloys and other armour. It is also substantially larger than the 8-wheeled BTR-3 and uses caterpillar tracks which are usually more expensive than wheels. The price may also vary depending on the choice of sensors and main gun sights, electronics and engine.

A BTR-82 APC, also a Soviet design of which the BTR-3 may be a derivative (the design is almost the same and the base dimensions are exactly the same), is estimated to cost $0.5 million by a contributor to a Russian chat room. The credibility of this is completely open to question, but in the absence of harder figures regarding the BTR-3 it is of some interest.

A Stryker wheeled armoured personnel carrier, one of the latest designs to enter service with the American army, costs $1.42 million. The Stryker was designed to maximize protection while reducing weight to improve portability by air. Troops found its armour inadequate against mines using shaped charges planted by militias in Iraq.

A Canadian LAV-25 wheeled armoured personnel carrier, used by American marines, costs $0.9 million. These vehicles are in a similar class in terms of weight and troop transport to the BTR-3. Whether they are comparable in terms of performance is harder to say.

Even allowing for lower unit prices arising from the scale of orders by the American government the prices of these vehicles may suggest the price being paid by the Thais for the Ukranian vehicles is high, and more so when compared to the speculated price for a BTR-82. The Thai price also looks expensive when compared to the price of a T80U main battle tank, a class of vehicles not currently found in the Thai inventory despite neighbours having such tanks.

PPT leaves it to readers to draw their own suspicions regarding whether Thai taxpayers are getting value for money or being led up the garden path, once again. Recall also that there has been no parliamentary scrutiny of any of the changes made by the army to the specifications and power train associated with the purchase.

The army and cabinet

8 09 2010

PPT readers may remember that we posted some time ago on the military’s budget requests that included funding for the amazing APC deal, where we commented on the lack of transparency on military spending when the army sought approval to buy an additional 121 armoured personnel carriers from the Ukraine while yet to receive any of the 96 vehicles it ordered three years ago from the same manufacturer three years earlier. The APCs hadn’t been delivered because the motors overheat and seize. So the army’s response was … order more. General Anupong Paojinda was said to want the deal done before he retired.

The deal is back in the news because it has just been approved by the Cabinet. The reports of the Cabinet’s decision-making are intriguing different in The Nation and the Bangkok Post.

The Nation reports that Cabinet “approved an Army bid to buy 100 armoured personnel carriers from Ukraine in a government-to-government purchase deal.” Note that it is 121 in the earlier report (above). That earlier report claimed the deal was worth 4.6 billion baht, and The Nation breathlessly says that the ministers “spent more than half an hour questioning representatives from the Army and discussed problems regarding the purchase of BTR-3EI wheeled APCs before giving it the green light.” Wow! More than 30 minutes on an opaque deal for the army when an earlier deal, also worth billions looks like a fizzer. It is good to know that the ministers took this huge expenditure so very seriously at about  133 million baht a minute.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is reported to have “asked the Army representatives why Germany did not sell to Ukraine the Deutz engine that was originally specified in the purchase deal, according to a Government House source. The prime minister also asked whether the contract could be scrapped if vehicles with the new engine … did not pass Army tests.”

Apparently the army “told ministers that the German government decided not to sell Deutz engines to Ukraine for the APCs because of Berlin’s policy of not selling armament to any country subject to political unrest, according to the source.” That could be the Ukraine although Deputy Prime Minister Trairong Suwannakiri “said he had learned that a Muslim organisation had asked Germany not to sell the engines for the APCs because the vehicles could be used in suppression of Muslims in Thailand’s deep South,” suggesting that Thailand’s political unrest is the reason.

Undeterred though, the army claimed a recent test showed the MTU engine was of better than the Deutz engine [both are German engines], although not one APC has shown up in Thailand as far as we know. Apparently the contract allowed the army “to cancel the deal if any of the delivered vehicles did not meet standard requirements.” The army can’t do that on the earlier deal (even if the same contract terms apply) because no APC has been delivered. PPT wonders if the German position is general or just one company?

The Bangkok Post puts a whole different spin on the story, making Abhisit sound like a prime minister willing to stand up to those potentially corrupt men in green: “… Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva voiced strong concern over several issues with the purchase.”

The key change is said to be the purchase of US engines instead of Germany’s Deutz BF 6m015. Matichon reports several engine types: Deutz BF 6m015, MTV 6Ri06TD 21, Allison MD 3066, Allison MD 3200sp. The Deutz and MTV engines only come up as a model in Thai websites. PPT thinks MTV should be MTU. The Allison models appear to be transmissions. In all of this, PPT thinks the change is not to US engines but an MTU powerplant with an Allison transmission. We only go through this to show how a 30 minute discussion must have been insufficient.

But that doesn’t stop the government and Post painting Abhisit as a pillar of good governance because he “fired several questions at army staff, in particular asking why Germany had refused to sell engines to Thailand for the APCs.” He’s worried about image more than 4-5 billion baht, perhaps. It is added that “Abhisit was concerned about the transparency of the contract and whether it was necessary…”. Really? No, because “The prime minister is concerned because he wants good reasons for the public to understand why Germany won’t sell us their engines. This does not concern the engine change, but rather deals with the image of Thailand…”. Image is the issue, not transparency or good governance.

The ever so dull acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn “said Germany refused to sell the Deutz engines because of the European Union’s policy not to supply weaponry to countries where human rights, border and ethnic problems exist to prevent the weapons being used for violent suppression.” But MTU engines are from Germany…. Panitan said this compared with “Britain’s refusal to sell fighter jets to Indonesia for use in East Timor” [when the Indonesians were engaged in genocide], “the US’s decision not to supply weapons to Pakistan and Germany’s previous rejection of Thailand’s request to buy an aircraft carrier.” Great company Thailand now keeps.

And, no parliamentary scrutiny of any of the changes.

Bottom line is that for all of Abhisit’s posturing, the whole deal got 30+minutes and was approved. The military gets what it desires. Abhisit owes the generals big time.

Deutz BF 6m015 เป็น MTV 6Ri06TD 21 และเครื่องเปลี่ยนความเร็ว จากเดิม Allison รุ่น MD3066 เป็น Allison รุ่น MD3200sp

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.

Reading the military’s political dominance

21 07 2010

There are several items that caught PPT’s eye in the Bangkok Post today. All are indicative of the decline of politics under the Abhisit Vejjajiva military-civilian regime.

The first was in a story about the Constituency 6 election. In it, the Post reports the results of a Police Special Branch poll of voting intention. Why on earth is the Special Branch doing this? Are they trying to influence voters? Another sign of the throwback regime that is running Thailand’s politics in a manner that reflects the deepest, darkest days of the Cold War and military dominance.

Related in the sense that it shows how powerful the military have become is a second article that focuses on the failure to lift emergency rule in most provinces that still suffer this undemocratic intrusion on politics and daily lives. In it, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defence General Apichart Penkitti is quoted as saying that he “believes the political activities of the Puea Thai Party and the red shirts still pose a threat…”. Apparently the general is worried about a birthday party for the absent Thaksin Shinawatra.

Now the last time PPT looked, Puea Thai was a legal political party. But the leading military bureaucrat now labels their political activities a threat. It is all downhill from here. Next they’ll want to ban Puea Thai after dissolving its two predecessor parties. Maybe the Department of Special Investigation will start crashing birthday parties in search of evil opponents of the regime and so-called Democrat Party?

The same article mentions that the army is “seeking 60 million baht from the central budget to support the work of security guards for the prime minister and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban amid rumours about an assassination plot.” This rumor has been around for a considerable time, but there is still no accounting of how much money CRES and the government are spending protecting themselves.

A third story, linked to the lack of transparency on military spending is the account of the army “seeking approval to buy an additional 121 armoured personnel carriers from the Ukraine even though it has yet to receive any of the vehicles it ordered three years ago.” Apparently, “army chief Anupong Paojinda has decided to spend his forces’ leftover funds for this year on 121 APCs from the Ukraine, which has yet to deliver the 96 vehicles ordered in 2007.” The APCs haven’t been delivered because the motors overheat and seize. So they are useless, but they order more. And Anupong wants the whole thing done before he retires. A retirement fund perhaps? If so, its 4.6 billion baht, making the non-flying and deflated 350 million baht zeppelin seem like small change.

It is all a bit too obvious and too depressing. Thailand is in a vortex of actions and interests that are at once a Cold War throwback but also something new, where the military has a civilian front. That seems to have been the lesson of failure of more or less direct military rule after the 2006 coup: get the civilians to be the front men and women and have them run down the rat hole of authoritarianism, censorship, repression and corruption.

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