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Major Thai arms purchases put on hold

Category: Defence Industry

Major Thai arms purchases put on hold

All arms procurement projects with tied-over budgets will be shelved in the wake of deep defence budget cuts which are also prompting the armed forces to resort to training on simulators, army chief Anupong Paojinda says.

Of the proposed military spending cuts amounting to 19 billion baht, the army's budget for the 2010 fiscal year will be slashed by 10 billion baht, Gen Anupong said yesterday.

The armed forces face heavy cuts after the country's revenue collections fell short of target. The government also needs to raise funds to finance economic stimulus schemes.

Gen Anupong said the cuts would result in the army freezing the 3.89-billion-baht purchase of another lot of 89 armoured personnel carriers from Ukraine.

The army also would be forced to switch to computer-simulated command post exercises instead of field training exercises, he said.

The army understood the government's need to save money and would try its best to comply.

"When it comes to budget cuts, the military is the first to bear the brunt. People will be affected if the budgets of agencies which have a direct impact on people are slashed," the army chief said.

"We will find measures to maintain our armaments and conduct command post exercises."

It had been anticipated for some time that the economic contraction would bite into the defence budget. But the extent of the cut, especially to the army's budget, had been unclear until now.

Some critics have expressed concern that the delayed procurement of some vital armaments could undermine national defence at a time when existing weaponry is becoming outdated and needs to be decommissioned.

The air force, for example, has decided to stall the purchase of six more Swedish-made Gripen jet fighters.

The air force has already bought six Gripens worth 19 billion baht with the planes due for delivery next year. The air force needs the other six Gripens to complete a fleet of 12 that will replace its ageing F-5 fighters scheduled to be decommissioned in 2011.

Meanwhile, a source at the Royal Thai Armed Forces headquarters said the military had sought a special allocation of 809 million baht to procure new anti-riot gear.

The military has been increasingly active in crowd-control operations and is short of equipment.

The proposed budget was floated after soldiers were deployed to assist police in dispersing red shirt protesters during the Songkran rioting.

Gen Anupong said about 20,000 troops were deployed but the equipment was good for only 900 soldiers.He also suggested that the government set aside funds to procure standard anti-riot gear if it required crowd control services from the armed forces. The military recently discussed the political situation and agreed more street protests could be expected.

If the military was to take charge of crowd control, particularly security preparations for the Asean summit in October, standardised anti-riot gear should be provided, the source said.

The proposed budget is for procurement of anti-riot and crowd control gear to accommodate 9,000 personnel - or about 60 companies of troops.

Of the budget, 67 million baht is earmarked to buy rubber bullets, 74 million baht for pepper spray, 169 million baht for tear gas grenades and launchers, 218 million baht for protective masks, and 174 million baht for anti-riot suits.

The rest is for helmets (33 million baht), transparent shields (39 million baht), electric batons (92.7 million baht), wooden batons (8 million baht) and protective gloves (8 million baht).

Bangkok Post

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