Thailand ‘Sacrifices’ Submarine For Chinese Patrol Boats; Argentina Dumps Chinese Jets For F-16s

In a highly ironic turn of events, two states seeking state-of-the-art platforms for their armed forces have chosen to accept far less. While Thailand may opt for patrol boats instead of Chinese submarines, Argentina is acquiring used warplanes instead of brand-new Chinese jets.

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A Thai navy source has revealed that the Chinese government has, in principle, agreed to supply one of the two vessels: two patrol boats or one frigate, in place of the submarine that has been a bone of contention between the two sides for several months now, Bangkok Post reported.

The source reportedly told the publication that the decision was made during Thailand’s Defence Minister Sutin Klungsang’s recent visit to China, along with the country’s Navy Chief Adm. Adung Pan-iam and Deputy Foreign Minister Jakkapong Sangmanee.

As per the sources, China has agreed to a proposal presented by the Thail government to buy either two offshore patrol vessels or a warship. The source said that the payment for this purchase would be made using the installments earmarked for the submarine by the Navy, which roughly totals 8 billion baht. However, a detailed arrangement is still allegedly in the works.

EurAsian Times could not independently verify these reports. Some other media outlets reported that the swap agreement put forth by Thailand has not been approved by Beijing yet. “I confirm that Thailand wants a frigate. However, we don’t know how the negotiations will end,” Defence Minister Sutin was quoted saying by Nation Thailand.

Further, the minister disclosed that should the exchange arrangement fall through, Thailand could proceed with its acquisition of the Chinese submarine. The Thai government is yet to comment on these rumors that have been rife on the internet.

However, military watchers believe that the acquisition of the submarine is likely to keep hanging in the balance owing to the disenchantment by the China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co (CSOC), which said that 50 % of the work on the submarine had been completed.

China’s Type 039 Yuan-class submarine (via Twitter)

Also, Thailand seems reticent to let go of its resistance to Chinese engines. In 2017, the initial agreement to purchase the S26T Yuan-class submarine with German-origin MTU-396 diesel engines was drafted. However, trouble started brewing after Germany scuttled the deal, citing policy constraints that prevented the planned engines from being included in any Chinese military equipment.

The deal ultimately hit a snag, as Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha threatened to terminate the agreement if the Chinese could not install the German-origin MTU-396 diesel engines specified in the original purchase agreement.

To prevent the agreement from falling through, Beijing proposed a locally produced substitute and reverse-engineered CHD620 engines, produced by China’s state-owned submarine builder and approved by German MTU. engine. However, Thailand reportedly rejected these engines, supposedly due to quality issues.

Defense Minister Sutin first announced in October last year that his country had ordered a Chinese frigate instead of moving ahead with the planned acquisition of a Chinese Yuan-class submarine due to the unavailability of a German engine as initially stipulated.

If China accepts the alternate proposal, the Thai government may have finally found a solution to this long-standing problem. However, it is almost amusing that the Southeast Asian country would purchase a patrol vessel or a warship instead of a submarine, the latter being a much more sophisticated, expensive, and sought-after capability.

Thailand may not be the only one making a sacrifice that stands beyond comprehension. Argentina, too, has decided to settle for second-hand Danish F-16 fighter jets after considering wide-ranging options from an array of different contractors.

Argentina Says Yes To Used F-16s

Argentina is getting closer to purchasing used F-16s from Denmark to replace its aging A-4 Fightinghawks following years of false starts during which many alternative fighter options were offered.

In extensive consultation with the Biden administration, which authorized the sale of the US-made aircraft, the Danish Ministry of Defense decided to sell 24 F-16 fighters to Argentina, according to a statement released on March 26, 2024.

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The announcement was made as Danish Minister of Defense, Troels Lund Poulsen, arrived in Buenos Aires to meet with his Argentina counterpart, Minister of Defense Luis Alfonso Petri.

“I have had an extremely fruitful meeting with my Argentina colleague, who has expressed great satisfaction in becoming a member of the family of F-16 nations across the globe. The deal has been negotiated in collaboration with the United States,” said the Danish Minister of Defense.

“Danish defense is in the process of a generational change, where our F-16 aircraft are gradually being phased out in favor of new F-35 combat aircraft,” Poulsen added. He also noted that 19 of these jets had already been earmarked for Ukraine, and the remaining 24 would be sold to Argentina.

However, he specified that a formal contract was yet to be signed.

The aircraft in question were originally manufactured as F-16A/B Block 10 and Block 15 aircraft. Later, they underwent a Mid-Life Update (MLU) that brought them up to a level that was essentially the same as the later F-16C/D Block 50/52, but without the more sophisticated radar.

Argentina has been looking for a fighter jet for a long time. In late 2021, it was reported that Buenos Aires had set aside $664 million for the acquisition of new multirole fighter aircraft, with $20 million going toward support infrastructure, such as runway renovations.

While several options were assessed over the years, none were accepted. These included the Chengdu J-10, the Dassault Mirage F1 and Mirage 2000, the IAI Kfir, the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) FA-50, the Leonardo M-346, and the Saab Gripen NG. Several possibilities were proposed, then rejected or otherwise prevented. There were also reports claiming that Russia was offering Su-24 Fencer strike planes.

A JF-17 Thunder of the Pakistani Air Force

The announcement also draws the curtain on a possible purchase of the JF-17 multi-role fighter, jointly developed by China and Pakistan. The Embassy of Argentina in China announced on March 14 that the South American country was interested in purchasing the JF-17 fighter jet. India’s LCA Tejas was also on offer but Argentina had shown a clear inclination for the JF-17.

Some analysts believe that the decision in favor of the F-16 signified the impact of the intense Great Power rivalry between the US and China in South America, where Washington is averse to having Beijing’s military equipment in its backyard.

Argentina’s air force has been exploring options to procure a new fighter jet for decades. However, the nation’s precarious financial situation and the British blockade have hampered these attempts. After the 1982 Falkland Islands War, the United Kingdom imposed an export ban on Argentina to prevent the Argentine military from modernizing.

In 2020, Argentina considered ordering the FA-50, but the British intervened to prevent this from happening. According to a letter that KAI wrote to Argentina’s embassy in Seoul in October of that year, the intended transaction fell through because of the Martin-Baker ejection seats and five other British-made components.

The US may have leveraged its bonhomie and influence with the United Kingdom to allow the deal to go through. Previous reports had indicated that the US was negotiating with the UK to allow the transfer of a former Danish F-16 A/B MLU to Argentina.

As for Argentina, a persistent cash crunch and a gap in its air capability likely make this deal sweet, especially since the UK has been creating impediments for the country for several years now.