On July 17, reports began surfacing out of Thailand that the government was moving forward with the construction of mini-submarines. Though few specifics have been publicly disclosed thus far and the process is expected to take a number of years to really get off the ground, the development has nonetheless put the spotlight once again on Bangkok’s decades-old aspirations in this domain.
As I have noted previously in these pages, over the past few years, Thailand has made some notable advances in terms of realizing its decades-long aspiration to acquire submarines. The most headline-grabbing of these was the approval of a deal to purchase submarines from China, initially concluded back in 2015 (See: “When Will Thailand’s First China Submarine Arrive?”).
Earlier this month, Thailand’s submarine pursuit was in the headlines again, albeit on a separate front. Reports surfaced that the current Thai government under Prayut Chan-o-cha was moving forward with a new project to design a so-called “midget” or mini-submarine, which had been in the works since late last year.
Captain Sattaya Chandraprabha, the head of the mini-submarine project from the Royal Thai Navy Academy, announced on July 17 that the planned construction of a prototype would take approximately seven years, with the design taking four years, the construction of the first vessel taking two years, and then seaworthiness checks and training following from that for one year, according to The Bangkok Post. The vessel in the unofficially named “Chalawan Class” is expected to have a surface displacement of 150-300 tons, a crew of 10, and a range of 300 nautical miles.
Few additional specifics have been released thus far about the project, including the overall cost of the vessel apart from the initial funds already allocated, and its distinctive features that play into its value proposition. And with this still being in the early stages and so much still left uncertain in the evolution of Thailand’s politics, how exactly it will move forward in the coming years remains to be seen. There are also other related variables in the mix, including continued skepticism among some about the need for submarines as well as constraints on Thailand’s defense budget. Nonetheless, as Thailand’s focus on submarines continues, it will remain an interesting space of watch.