Updated: Military wheeling and dealing

4 06 2018

Activist Srisuwan Janya seems to enjoy walking around with a target on his back. That is not a poor taste reflection on the military’s penchant for using snipers to kill demonstrators, but to Srisuwan’s continued attacks on the military and the regime.

His latest outing is of a military satellite project. He claims it is likely to “incur up to 91.2 billion in public debt to fund the … project.” Srisuwan says “the Defence Council last week approved a proposal for the Defence Ministry to draft a 2018-2027 strategic plan on space affairs for country defence purposes in paving the way for the purchase of 112 satellites called Theia.”

The Bangkok Post states that unnamed “ministry sources” revealed that the “Defence Technology Institute (DTI) and the ministry’s space affairs and cyber centre to assess the Theia satellite project.” Further, this is “part of the Thailand Satellites Data Information Processing Centre (TSDIPC), in which Thailand will work with the United States and other countries…”. It adds that the “US Theia Group invited the Thai government to co-invest in a satellite (Theia Space) with another four or five countries, the names of which were not revealed…”.

On the Sky Dragon purchase, we looked for information on the penny company involved with that waste of funds. We did the same with this one.

There’s something called Theia Space involved with the the European Space Agency, satellites and space research, but we don’t think that’s the agency involved.

More likely is the Theia Group in the US, which has very little information that we can find. There’s a sparse profile and an SEC reporting document from 2016. The military will also be pleased to know that there’s a Technical Narrative for the Theia Satellite Network available from the FCC.

There’s also some news that seems to relate to Theia. One we saw stated that several companies had filed for approvals from the FCC in 2016-17, adding: “It’s unlikely that all of them are going to make it to market…”. One of the projects mentioned is Theia Holdings:

The proposed Theia Satellite Network (TSN) is designed as an integrated Earth observation and communications network to provide remote-sensing and communications products and services to a variety of users in the U.S. and worldwide.

The constellation would include 112 operational satellites in LEO that incorporate remote-sensing, signal-processing and communications payloads. TSN is designed to collect, process and deliver remote-sensing information products directly to end users on demand and to provide broadband communications necessary to the delivery of these products and services, including directly into machines via M2M communications.

Potential markets for Theia’s services include basic Earth and atmospheric sciences, agriculture, natural resources exploration, insurance, infrastructure protection and support of economic and physical security.

Theia doesn’t jump out as a major corporation for which there is lots of information available (but perhaps we are not looking in the right places). It is in a technology area that is in clearly in development and where it faces competition, and where the report cited above says not all proposals will get to market.

Naturally enough, the junta has attacked Srisuwan for “distortion.” We have no idea about that, but the military would get less “distortion” if it was less opaque in its wheeling and dealing. But that might threaten commissions and the painful effort of being more transparent, something all the generals find an awful idea.

Update: Khaosod now has an excellent report on this “project.”

Further updated: Covering the corruption money trails

22 10 2017

Recall the claim that Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda had approved the purchase of hundreds of “road speed guns for six times the normal price?”

Anupong said the “849 hand-held laser speed detectors – each costing 675,000 baht – was urgent to replace outdated equipment.” That’s more than 573 million baht. The project did not go to open bidding. And, oddly, the speed cameras were said to be for the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.

The Bangkok Post’s Umesh Pandey states that General Anupong is one of The Dictator’s “closest associates …[and] has hit the headlines once again and this time, again, it is for the carelessness of his decision making.”

According to Umesh, “Gen Anupong defended himself, saying that he was unaware of the pricing of the equipment and it was only his role to pass on the requests of the agencies to the cabinet. The cabinet did not ask too many questions and approved the procurement plan presented by Gen Anupong.”

Sound familiar? It should. General Anupong made similar noises when he approved the Red Bull plant in Khon Kaen that has now been cancelled. Don’t blame me, he said, I just processed the approval.

Yeah, right. Then there was the deflated zeppelin. And the GT200 magic wands, both purchased in the past with Anupong and General Prayuth Chan-ocha working on the very bad deals that were both likely to be corrupt.

On the speed guns, there’s a belated attempt to construct a story that is so riddled with nonsense that the story is designed to befuddle while hoping the story goes silent – the junta’s trusted strategy. (Think of Rolls Royce corruption, the murder of Chaiyapoom Pasae and the “stealing” of the 1932 commemoration plaque, to name just three silences.)

The new story is that The Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department planned to buy laser-equipped speed detectors to enforce speed limits and would lend them to the police every so often. We looked at the Department’s website and couldn’t see how it might use speed guns….

Department Director-general Chayapol Thitisak “said the detectors were necessary for officials to effectively enforce the law against speeders and inculcate traffic discipline. The devices would mainly be used on secondary roads connecting districts, tambons and villages.” The department’s plan was claimed to be “in response to requests from organisations running campaigns to reduce road accidents…”.

That seems a most unlikely story to us.

Trying to save the boss, director-general Chayapol said the “procurement process had not begun…” and that “no sale had been concluded…”.

Maybe. Let’s see, when The Dictator gets his boot out of his mouth over Facebook, how he defends his former boss and co-conspirator.

Update 1: Interestingly, Veera Prateepchaikul, in an op-ed at the Bangkok Post has almost the same points about this deal as our post.

Update 2: General Anupong is under continued attack from yellow-shirted ultra-nationalist Veera Somkwamkid who says that Anupong’s proposal to “the cabinet on Oct 10” was approved at “a budget of 957.6 million baht for the procurement of 1,064 hand-]held speed guns, each worth around 900,000 baht.”

Meanwhile, Anupong went all Sgt Schultz: “I have no idea how many speed detectors the government approved for the procurement because it’s beyond my authority. You have to ask the DDPM…”.

Sky Dragon “investigation” 8 years late

18 09 2017

The Bangkok Post reports that “Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas has vowed to scrutinise the army’s controversial 340-million-baht aerial patrol project, which included the purchase of a rarely-used airship.”

The Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) will “step in to conduct a review of the project…”. This “review” is to “assess” Sky Dragon’s “past performance … to find out whether it was worth spending national funds to buy it in the first place, and if something irregular is detected, various organisations will be contacted to investigate further…”.

Under the military junta and when investigating anything military or associated with the junta, the OAG is notorious for announcing “investigations” and then burying them in silence or quickly saying every thing is above board. Will this “review” be any different? Probably not, unless General Anupong Paojinda, the military commander when the blimp was purchased, has fallen out of favor.

But, really, why now? The problems and issues with the deflating dirigible go back to its purchase in 2009 under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. Where has the OAG then and every year since?

PPT’s first post on Sky Dragon was in February 2010. Let’s reproduce some of that. It begins by mentioning the price (that the persons involved and the junta spokesman are now trying to fiddle down):

The airship was purchased from the US company, Arial International Cooperation. [Bangkok Post reporter] Wassana [Nanuam] 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…. [Prayuth later said that such leaks were “normal.”]

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 [the link no longer works] 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 [The website still sort of operates with a different URL]. 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.”

We are not sure if the company is Arial or Aria. If it is Aria (and what’s left at the website fits the deal with the RTA), it seems that if it still exists, its shares are down considerably from when it was a penny company. It usually trades at 0.0005 cents.

You would think that a competent Office of the Attorney General might have been a little interested back in 2010.

Sky Dragon dies, corruption ignored

15 09 2017

It is now an old story of military corruption, irresponsibility, saving face, commissions and so on, but worth bringing to its conclusion, at least at this blog.

Sky Dragon has been officially and secretly deflated and will presumably go to landfill or some vacant hangar (unless some military entrepreneur can work out a way to make more money from its carcass). We certainly don’t expect any “investigation” of this useless purchase.

An earlier photo when the Sky Dragon was inflated and operated

The Bangkok Post says that the zeppelin has had “eight years’ service during which time the blimp crashed once while it was mostly grounded the rest of the time as it was plagued by various defects.”

In this sense, “service” means being flat as a tack in a hangar. Its “service” was to those who got benefits from its purchase from a 1-cent company in the U.S.

The Post reports that those involved in the dirigible’s procurement plan and “operations” included General Prayuth Chan-ocha, General Prawit Wongsuwan and General Anupong Paojinda. These three now run Thailand after they murderously gunned down red shirts in 2010 and staged their military coup in 2014.

Naturally enough, these fugitives from justice (in the sense that they have impunity and an iron grip on repression, so do not need to flee), “were tight-lipped when asked by the media Thursday whether the airship was really worth the money spent and the additional amounts spent on maintenance.” The total cost is estimated to be at least 1 billion baht, including purchase, maintenance and operational costs.

There’s no need for reticence. The answer is no. It even seems that this purchase was small beans in the commissions game, so the tight lips are about saving face and protecting hierarchy for these small minded military dictators.

The decommissioning of the blimp was accidentally revealed to the media. Sky Dragon has not been in the air since 2012. It was purchased under Abhisit Vejjajiva’s regime. It is reported that:

The purchase of the controversial airship previously triggered a dereliction of duty allegation against former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban….

Citing the dereliction of duty allegation, Pheu Thai petitioned the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to impeach Mr Suthep, but the NACC later on Dec 24, 2015 dismissed the request.

That seems par for the (military) course. Only those in parties close to Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra seem of interest to the NACC. Certainly, as noted above, under the military dictatorship, we can’t imagine any agency wanting to investigate the bosses.


2 05 2017

Despite much negative and regime weakening press and calls for its submarine deal to be scrapped, the Navy is really happy and thumbing its nose at the country.

The “Royal Thai Navy has said a new government can terminate the approved procurement of a Chinese-made submarine costing 13.5 billion baht, but it has to justify doing so as it will result in the loss of a 700-million-baht down payment by Thailand.”

Not only that, they have also said that the taxpayer can be screwed for more loot.

Navy Deputy Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Patchara Pumpiched “revealed” that the “deal to buy three Chinese submarines could cost more than Bt36 billion – the initial price given by the government – if the Navy believes it requires more advanced technology.”

He “explained” that there “might be additional costs if they [we assume he means the Chinese] enhance the capability of submarines in the future…”

“But,” said Vice Admiral Patchara, fear not for the navy is on the job…. He “revealed” that the navy will “also make sure that all equipment that we request in the agreement is obtained.”

What a good idea! Can we assume that it is usual for the military to not ensure it gets all the taxpayer paid for? GT200, Sky Dragon? On those deals they also got what they paid for: commissions and worthless crap.

The Vice Admiral was moved to declare: ““I don’t think any Defence Ministry or the Navy of any country would get a deal like we have…”.

Maybe. As far as we can tell, only two governments have purchased these subs, Thailand and Pakistan. The Thai purchase price does appear cheaper per sub, but the Pakistani deal includes building four of the vessels in Pakistan. Technology and  jobs are involved. But this is not a part of the Thailand deal and we doubt any of the commission jockeys even thought of it.

In fact, the Thailand “deal” apparently includes the Chinese “send[ing] staff to be stationed in Thailand for two years…”.

It was Navy chief of staff, Admiral Luechai Ruddit, who was also chairman of the navy’s submarine procurement panel who chuckled about having the next government over a 700 million baht barrel:

Adm Luechai admitted that the next government could revoke the contract, but before the new government is able to take office after an election expected in late next year, the down payment for the purchase of 700 million baht would have been paid.

Adm Luechai defended the purchase by “explaining” that Thailand doesn’t have submarines and others do. That brilliant piece of deductive reasoning was followed up with this:

“We want to have submarines so that we do not get tangled up in a war,” he said, adding that if the kingdom has submarines, other countries would hesitate to wage war on Thailand.

He seems to be eyeing those dastardly Malaysians and Singaporeans, both having submarines. Or maybe it is India an Pakistan as the navy claims to want to pen some of the submarines on the Andaman Sea side.

(It can’t be China he’s thinking of as they are supplying the subs…).

Or maybe it is the Americans. The Admiral babbled:

“As for those wondering if the [average] depth of 50 metres in the Gulf of Thailand really can accommodate a submarine, such a medium-sized vessel can easily navigate through the gulf as some from the US and its allies did several times during World War II in operations causing substantial damage to Thailand,” he said.

(If any reader has information on submarine attacks that caused “substantial damage to Thailand,” we’d be interested. We can find none. Perhaps the Admiral is confusing submarines with bombers?) For those interested in a similar Navy effort to get submarines, in 1934, this might be of use.

The deal is the Navy gets subs and the taxpayer gets slugged.

Toys for boys

22 02 2017

PPT has been trying to find a “space” for this post for a few days. Now we have it.

An op-ed at the Bangkok Post comments on Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, who doubles as the Minister for Defense, and his confirmation that “the Royal Thai Navy will spend 13.5 billion baht for one Chinese-made submarine, delivery guaranteed in 2017.” Another 27 billion baht will be paid “for two additional subs have been approved in principle.”

The op-ed states that this is “a disappointing rejection of both public and expert opinion that opposes the long drawn-out plan to equip the navy with submarines on every conceivable ground imaginable.”

That’s about as strong a rejection as possible! It gets stronger, saying the junta’s justification for the sub purchase “should be grounds for immediate cancellation of the order.”

The reason given by the navy “has boiled down to a single reason: neighbouring countries have submarines. This justification is entirely unremarkable.” The author continues: “That other countries have submarines can have no real bearing on Thailand…. But there is no arms race in the region, no palpable threat of war — nothing to justify taking 40 billion baht from the public coffers to begin a brand new military branch.”

The op-ed then mentions other military purchases that have been farces: an aircraft carrier that carries no aircraft that can fly and the army’s dirigible, the ill-fated Sky Dragon that has never been operational and the GT200 magic wand that was said to be a “bomb detector” but was a fake.

No one has ever been held responsible for these (and myriad other) ridiculous purchases. Who got those commissions?

The author concludes:

It is becoming more difficult by the day to shake the thought that the coup of May 2014 was more about the coup-makers than the nation. The junta, the prime minister and every ministry has refused to engage the public on every decision — political, social and economic. The purchase of these costly boats for the navy are often derided as “toys for boys”. The lack of credible justification for the purchase of yet more non-strategic hardware makes that tough to refute.

That seems a reasonable conclusion about an unreasonable regime.

Who is in charge of the cookie jar?

24 08 2014

It is quite clear that the answer to this is that Thailand is now controlled by bunch of crooks.

A reader has pointed out an Asia Sentinel article from a couple of days ago, where its necessarily anonymous correspondent brings together some of the factual reports of the past few years that confirm the criminality of the military brass.

The report states that the military is a “bloated force with 1,400 generals now will seek to run the country…”. The report says that “is 400 more generals than the US Army has for a force three times as big.”

In 2010, it paid some $30 million for more than 1500 “bomb detection devices … sold by a discredited British company … [d]espite a warning from the US Embassy that the devices were ‘like a toy’…”.  It continued to use them for years after they were shown to be fake. They were used to convict the innocent of alleged crimes and were “apparently bought by a Thai general who is said to have profited enormously on the deal.” Naturally.

The report states that the “fact is that the Thai army …  is one of the most deeply corrupt militaries in Asia,” matters little, with the Anti-Corruption Commission ruling that:

the incoming junta members do not have to declare the assets they amassed before and after holding office.  That is in contradiction to the policy for elected officials before the coup. It is also going to be convenient for new executive boards for state-owned enterprises, whose new members are largely drawn from the military.

Having just “approved a US$75 billion master plan to upgrade the country’s transport infrastructure over the next eight years,” there’s little doubt that the “military’s historic role in procurement scandals,” the “chances for generals or lesser officers to take backhanders is inevitably going to grow,” for no one can oversee a military dictatorship.

Corruption in the military is “business as usual.” Enriched and bloated generals operate with impunity. The report explains:

It is just one of a long string of depressing procurement scandals that the Thai military has endured for decades, going clear back to the time in the 1980s and before when the army bought hundreds of armored personnel carriers from the Chinese that were so substandard that light showed through the welds holding the armor plate on, exposing the soldiers inside to the potential of death in the event they were hit by rocket fire. The wife of one of the army’s then-top generals was the agent for Chinese weapons dealers.  At one point the Thai air force bought Chinese jets with engines so substandard that the planes had to be towed to the flight line for takeoff and towed back on landing, because the engine life was so short, measured in hours.

One of the powers behind The Dictator is General Anupong Paojinda. He and Prayuth “signed off on a Bt350 million purchase of an advanced zeppelin which … has long been obsolete” and never flew operationally.

“This is the military that is going to be in charge of Thailand’s economy.” Corrupt and incompetent, the military is only “useful” for murdering its own citizens and protecting the interests of the palace-military ruling elite.

It is hard to keep a good blimp down

19 07 2013

Well, not in the case of the inaptly named Sky Dragon, which seems to be a reptilian monster that can only look at the sky while consuming its only natural food, the taxpayers’ baht.

Purchased in 2009 from a company that had no other business to speak of, then army chief General Anupong Paojinda seemed to think that a blimp was a good deal. Since then, the zeppelin has almost never flown and has never been operational. It also has high maintenance costs of about 30 million baht a year and requires 80 soldiers to look after it.money_down_toilet 2

In other words, the purchase has been a complete waste of taxpayer money.

And yet, according to the Bangkok Post, the Army has still has no plans to sell its grounded and non-operational airship. How could they? Who’d want to buy an unserviceable and expensive wreck? The Army is apparently still “looking for a firm to fix its problems…”. That is estimated to cost a further 50 million baht.

Blimps deflated everywhere

20 02 2013
An earlier photo when the Sky Dragon was inflated and operated

An earlier photo when Sky Dragon was inflated and operated

A reader who follows the military use of airships and has noted the repeated deflation of the Thai Army’s zeppelin known as Sky Dragon, sent us a story regarding the U.S. military’s mothballing of its airship operations. The U.S. “mega- reconnaissance blimps” were more costly and much larger than the Thai balloon, but also faced “performance challenges.” The Thai “performance challenges” were essentially lack of performance in that Sky Dragon was unable to fly or stay inflated.

Our last post on Sky Dragon mentioned its crash in Patani, during its first active operation. For a bit of a round-up of our previous posts on the blimp, its shady purchase and more, see this post.

The Army is never wrong

14 12 2012

Yesterday we posted regarding the Army’s failed use of what is becoming an ever costlier air ship. Today the Army reveals that the blimp known as Sky Dragon did not “crash,” but was required to “perform an emergency landing because of turbulence,” after it was just 20 meters into the air. The hard “emergency landing” smashed much of the air ship – 50% of it was damaged said one source in the Bangkok Post.money_down_toilet 2

So what do the Colonel Blimps at the Army do? Decide to spend even more taxpayer money on what is becoming a useless sink hole to rival the magic wand known as the GT200 and other stupid (but lucrative for potential kickbacks) Army purchases from dodgy companies.

The Army reckons repairs will cost 30 million baht. Add that to the original cost and the money poured down the sink repairing leaks and keeping the useless zeppelin full of gas, and the taxpayer is looking like the Army’s milch cow.

But, we hear you ask, what about insurance? The Post reports: “The blimp’s insurance was said to have expired…”.

Who is responsible for all of this less than dazzling decision-making? “Army Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha … ordered the repair and said the army had no plan to ground the aircraft.” There is an attitude that that the Army can never do wrong or can’t admit that it has done something wrong, which is intimately asociated with broader notions of impunity.

Sky Dragon is a monster that can only look at the sky but consumes vast amounts of its natural food, baht.

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