China offers Thailand 2 Type 039 Song submarines as standby solution

In 2016, following an international competition, the Thai authorities chose the Chinese S-26T submarine, derived from the Yuan-class Type 039A, to constitute the country's submarine force, of which the powerful Royal Thai Navy is so far lacking. In addition to satisfactory performance and reliable anaerobic propulsion, the Chinese offer was based on a sizeable advantage, a unit price of only $460 million, half that of its competitors with the highest bids. However, in its proposal, Beijing had included European equipment, in particular German turbines built by MTU, without having taken the precaution of requesting prior authorization from the German engine manufacturer on this subject.

While the first sheet metal cutting was widely reported by the media in 2019, and Bangkok simultaneously announced the order of 2 additional ships and a Type 071E assault ship from Beijing, the situation with MTU was not resolved, and without the consecutive productive halt of the Covid crisis, it is likely that the stalemate that hits this contract today would have appeared before. Indeed, the German engine manufacturer refused to accept the Chinese order to equip the Thai submarines, causing additional delays of at least one year in the delivery of the first submersible to the Thai Navy, which should not intervene now before 2024, and this in the best case.

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Thailand's S-26T submarines are derived from the Chinese Navy's AIP-powered Type 039A Yuan

To address this problem, and not risk seeing Bangkok turn to another service provider, Beijing has just offered the Thai authorities their offer two Type 039 Song-class submarines as a standby solution, in order to allow the Thai Navy to build skills while waiting for the delivery of the ships ordered. The Chinese Navy has 13 of these submarines that entered service between 1998 and the end of the 2000s, the Song being the predecessors of the Yuan which today form the backbone of the Chinese submarine fleet. Although devoid of anaerobic propulsion, the Song remain perfectly capable ships, and represent the first generation of modern submarines designed in China, effectively allowing the Thai Navy to implement in the relatively short term a first underwater capability on a booming theater in this field.

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