Thailand has an 1,800 nautical mile coastline to protect,
with responsibility resting mainly with the Royal Thai Navy (RTN).
With a fleet of over 130 mainly modern vessels, including a
small aircraft carrier, 15 frigates and corvettes, and six missile-armed fast
attack craft, the RTN is one of Southeast Asia's larger, and better-equipped,
The RTN's major warships are potent symbols of national
sovereignty, and regularly provide a high-profile Thai presence in regional
exercises with foreign navies.
Also, they sometimes venture further afield on defence
Regional concerns are mounting, though, over maritime
territorial sovereignty, offshore resource protection, resurgent piracy,
terrorism, search and rescue, and, in the wake of the 2004 tsunami, disaster
In response, the RTN has switched its acquisition priorities
from deep-sea warships with surface, underwater and air warfare capabilities,
to offshore patrol vessels (OPV), suitable for cost-effective patrol,
enforcement, response and surveillance duties.
Three locally-built Hua Hin-class OPVs entered service with
the RTN in the early 2000s, while in 2005/2006 the RTN commissioned two
96-metre Pattani class OPVs, constructed by Hudong Shipyard, in Shanghai,
96-metre Pattani-class OPV
Now, British Shipbuilder BVT Surface Fleet has forged an
alliance with Bangkok Dock, for the construction of an advanced OPV for the
RTN. Bangkok Dock will build the ship at their dry dock facility in the Thai
capital, to a design supplied by BVT.
The design of the helicopter-capable, 90-metre, OPV will be
based on that of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard's (TTCG) three new
ships, which are at present in build in UK.
This new class is a development of the British Royal Navy's
River class ships, as, incidentally, are the trio of new ships, also currently
being built by BVT in Britain, for the Royal Navy of Oman.
The TTCG vessels, which are set for busy operational lives
combating the international trade in illegal narcotics, will each be armed with
one 30mm cannon, backed up by machine guns. They will be able to operate an
Agusta Westland AW-139 medium helicopter from a 20-metre flight deck, and will
carry a high-speed RIB for interception and boarding duties.
Long range offshore surveillance will be enabled by the
Scanter 4100 radar system, and the advanced Ultra Osiris mission management
system will be fitted.
The TTCG ships will be powered by twin MAN 16v 28133D
diesels, producing 7.2MW, and linked to controllable pitch propellers to enable
a top speed of about 25 knots. The specifications for the RTN ship are likely
to be similar to those of the TTCG vessels.
The BVT-Bangkok Dock venture will involve the transfer to
Bangkok Dock of BVT technology, design and construction skills, and may include
some British-built modules.
Follow-on vessels of the same type may later be built by the
This new OPV deal is in accord with BVT's strategy of
establishing itself as a major player in Asian warship construction. The main
aim is for the company to compete much more effectively, in the potentially
highly lucrative regional naval market, by taking advantage of Asian business
costs, which are far lower than those in Europe. Local construction will also
strengthen BVT's hand in negotiations with prospective customers, which
nowadays often include demands for both technology transfer, and offset
Incidentally, British-designed warships have been built in
Thailand before. The three RTN anti-submarine corvettes of the Khamronsin-class,
and the similar, but far less heavily armed, Royal Thai Police patrol ship ‘Srinakarin’
were all completed locally, in the 1990s, to a design by Vosper Thornycroft, a
company which has since been acquired by BVT.
The Hua Hin-class OPVs were also built to a design based on
that of the Khamronsin.
The BVT-Bangkok Dock contract underscores Thailand’s policy
of acquiring warships from diverse sources. The RTN has, over the years,
commissioned vessels designed and built in China, Europe and the USA, as well
as indigenously-constructed craft.
This policy avoids the perils of over-reliance on a small
number of suppliers, but can pose maintenance challenges.
BVT's Asian expansion ambitions are not just focused on
Thailand, though, and there have been reports that the company is negotiating
with both the Indian and Malaysian shipbuilding industries.
The Indians are reportedly particularly interested in
importing BVT's expertise in modular shipbuilding techniques, to be used in the
construction of a new class of advanced OPVs for the Indian Coast Guard.
Modular building, involving of more than one yard in the
build of a ship, so as to take advantage of a geographical spread of skills,
and costs, is now not uncommon, and is not confined to the construction of
For instance, the building of the Royal Australian Navy's
new landing ships, and guided missile destroyers, is to be split between yards
in Australia and Spain.
For some years, a project for the construction, by BVT, of
two upgraded Lekiu guided missile frigates for the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN)
was in gestation. The plan was for construction of the warships to be
shared between UK and Malaysian yards, using modular techniques. The
enhanced Lekiu project though, seems recently to have been halted, probably for
financial reasons. BVT is instead reportedly offering OPVs, to be built mainly
in Malaysia, with British assistance.
Another possibility for BVT is the modification and sale to the RMN, of the
three Seawolf missile-armed Bendahara Sakam-class corvettes, completed by BAE
Systems for the Royal Brunei Navy in 2003-2004, which are currently languishing
alongside in UK.
Following a complex contractual dispute, the Bruneians
finally took ownership in 2007, but immediately put them up for sale.
These compact but heavily armed warships could represent an
economical alternative to new-build vessels to satisfy the RMN's need for an
expanded deep sea presence, but they are not ideally suited for sustained
offshore patrol work, particularly as they do not have a helicopter capability.
Furthermore, other countries, including Algeria and the UAE, are thought to be
interested in acquiring them.