Thai PM was visiting the Ministry of Defence compound on Tuesday for the first time. He took time to pay homage to a number of important shrines while also inspecting the old and historic water well uncovered by the Thai army only last Friday.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-Ocha, on Tuesday, went to the Defence Ministry for the first time in his new role as defence minister in his second administration. He held talks on the military reshuffle of the top ranks. Before the visit, he warned that the military top brass cannot expect to get everything on their wishlist as the new government has a limited defence budget. However, the PM at the same time ruled out any change to the government’s stated aim and approved decision to purchase 3 Chinese submarines with reports that the Royal Thai Navy will press soon for an order to be signed for the second vessel. It has also been revealed that the PM will take on important police roles previously overseen by the former defence minister and deputy prime minister, Prawit Wongsuwan.

Thai Prime Minister pays his respects at a sacred shrine at the Ministry of Defence on Tuesday as he went there for the first time to meet top brass and officials. The PM has insisted that the deal for submarines from China will go ahead but will be subject to proper oversight. He has also warned that the Thai military cannot get all it wants due to the government’s limited budget. Prayut has insisted that his second administration is committed to implementing all its policies and strategic plans while maintaining strict financial discipline. It is reported, from Navy sources, that a contract to purchase a second Chinese submarine will be signed once parliament approves the government’s 2020 budget.

The Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha took up his role as defence minister today when he went to the Ministry of Defence in Bangkok and met top brass from the armed forces.

Prior to this, over the weekend, the prime minister came out and gave an assurance that all the government’s plans and policies would be brought to fruition. He appeared to be responding to claims and doubts raised by the opposition parties during Thursday and Friday’s fierce but productive policy debate in parliament.

Government working to a master plan

The PM highlighted that the policies and manifesto of the new government are in line with agreed national strategies and an overall master plan which the government had developed, building on the foundation put in place by the previous administration. He said that the next step would be to communicate with all state bodies and agencies to delineate key goals to be achieved within definite time frames in order to respond to the aspirations of the Thai people.

Strict financial discipline promised by the PM

Prayut also laid emphasis on the continued commitment of the government to maintain strict financial discipline in managing the country’s finances while carrying forward these plans.

Prayut welcomed on his first day at the Ministry of defence in Bangkok by officials and top brass

On Tuesday, the prime minister was welcomed to the Ministry of Defence complex by General Nat Intharacharoen who is the permanent secretary at Thailand’s Department of Defence. Also in attendance was the Supreme Commander, General Pornpipat Benyasri, the Commander and Chief of the Thai Army General Apirat Kongsompong as well as the heads of the navy and air force.

Time to pay homage to ancient shrines

The PM made some time before he entered the Ministry to present himself at the Bangkok City Pillar Shrine which he acknowledged and later did the same at a revered shrine within the Ministry, Chao Por Ho Klong. This means the spirit of the drum tower. This is an ancient shrine thought to guard the city of Bangkok. It has three floors and a drum on each floor.

Government leader inspects historic water well that was discovered by the army on Friday

The prime minister also made time to see for himself another ancient feature, this time a long lost water well which Thai army engineers only discovered on Friday.

While clearing an area used for parking to allow for paving, Thai army personnel on Friday found three large granite blocks. When they were removed, the site revealed a solid and well-built water well about 9 metres in depth and 1 metre wide with a 20-centimetre circumference bricked wall lining it.

Thought to date back 132 years

It is thought that it may date from the original Ministry of Defence building and compound which dates back 132 years. The prime minister gave orders that the area around the well should be made more presentable and that army technicians check to see if the water is safe to drink. The permanent secretary, General Nat, said that he planned to coordinate with the Fine Arts Department in renovating the well.

Navy pushing for the second submarine from China

A key issue which was brought up by the opposition last week and which is a major part of government policy in relation to Thailand’s maritime defence is the purchase of more submarines from China. Sources within the Navy this week suggest that it is ready to press ahead with already agreed plans to purchase a second submarine within months.

This is expected to occur after parliament approves the 2020 budget for the government.

‘Issue is over’ said Prayut as he says the submarine purchases will proceed with oversight

This has been given a boost in the last few days as the prime minister has said bluntly that the purchase of all three submarines would proceed in an orderly fashion. He said: ‘The purchase must be made properly. There must be a committee to check it and make it transparent – and the issue is over.’

First Chinese submarine went into production in September 2018 and will be delivered in 2023

Thailand’s first Chinese submarine went into production at a Chinese shipyard in September last year and is scheduled to be delivered in the summer of 2023. The Thai government is paying for the naval vessel in scheduled instalment payments which began in 2017 and currently stand at ฿2 billion per year. The total cost of the Yan Class 26T craft is ฿13.5 billion.

Cabinet in 2016 agreed the 3 submarine package as the Royal Thai Navy restructures

The Thai cabinet in 2016 agreed to the plan in principle and budgetary approval has been secured in the long term to purchase the 3 submarines as part of a ฿36 billion package. The Thai Navy has not had new submarines for over 60 years and the vessels are needed for operations in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. The navy is currently in the process of restructuring its operations and is also seeking to purchase a new docking ship and landing platform to replace the existing vessel, HTMS Angthong which was built in Singapore for ฿4.9 billion. The new vessel will be Chinese made and will cost ฿4 billion.

Defence minister in Yingluck regime turned down six German second-hand subs from ฿7.7 billion

At one point, the Yingluck Shinawatra led administration was looking at purchasing six second hand German-made submarines from Germany for ฿7.7 billion but those plans were questioned at the time by the former defence minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapa who served in the role until January 2012.  

United States announces ฿5.4 billion armoured vehicle sale to Thailand this week

Also Tuesday, there was news from the United States where the US State Department has announced the sale of 60 Stryker 8 wheeled armoured infantry carriers to Thailand. The units come with machine guns, special vision enhancers, rocket launchers and a package of spare parts and ongoing logistical support. The price tag quoted is $175 million or ฿5.4 billion. The sale has yet to be presented and approved by the US Congress. 

It is not clear whether this is related to a report from the army in May that it had secured a deal to buy 37 reconditioned Stryker units for $80 million or ฿2.5 billion.

No free for all in military spending as the government has a limited budget warns PM

As he begins work today, the prime minister has also let it be known that the government will not allow a free for all on military spending. In the last few days, he has warned that the top brass cannot get all they want because the new government has a limited budget. It is reported that today the PM will talk informally with the armed forces leadership and defence department officials about the forthcoming military reshuffle in the top ranks. This is expected to be concluded and announced by the middle of next month.

Prime Minister takes on police roles of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan

The PM also has let it be known that he has taken on the police roles of the former defence minister and now Deputy Prime Minister, Prawit Wongsuwan. He has explained that this is because of his concern for the health of his long-time ally and close associate. The deputy prime minister will maintain other key roles such as overseeing national security and the intelligence services.