In a statement to the press, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-o-cha, confirmed Bangkok’s plans to acquire three air-independent propulsion (AIP)-powered submarines from China.
The Royal Thai Navy (RTN) secured U.S. $383.4 million for the first S26T submarine in January. The deal, which entails three submarines, is valued at a total of $1.02 billion. The lead ship will include the cost of logistics, training, maintenance and potentially munitions, freeing the remaining two to cost less.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told Thai media that one of the submarines will be “a free gift.”
The S26T will be the RTN’s first submarines since the end of the Second World War. Although Thailand procured its very first submarines in 1937, it has not operated such machines for more than 50 years.
After assessing several proposals, the Chinese S26T was selected for being “the cheapest with the quality relatively acceptable.” Cost sensitivity was the decisive factor in Thailand’s decision.
This is China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation’s (CSIC) second major submarine export contract. In 2015, it secured a massive eight ship deal from the Pakistan Navy, of which four will be built in Pakistan by Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works. The first batch will arrive in Pakistan from 2022.
The S26 has a displacement of 2,660 tons. Since it appears to be the AIP-equipped version of the 2,200-ton S20, the S26 likely has six torpedo tubes for deploying anti-submarine warfare torpedoes and anti-ship missiles (AShM).
As per the China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Corporation (CSOC) (via IHS Jane’s), the S26 can travel at a maximum speed of 18 knots and can reach 8,000 nautical miles at 4 knots. It can dive to a maximum depth of 300 metres. CSOC is marketing a Stirling AIP system, which enables the S26 to stay submerged without snorkeling for a long duration (CSOC did not provide specifics).
In parallel, China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC) is marketing submarine-launch AShMs for the export market, including the 290-km range C-708UNB. Beijing’s ability to compete on cost, accessibility to AIP and long-range AShM and, potentially, customization position it as a strong naval systems supplier, especially in cost-sensitive and developing world market.