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Thailand - Somdhat Defends Tanks Purchase (16 Jun 2003)
Critics have termed the decommissioned tanks that Switzerland is trying to sell Thailand as too heavy for Thailand's terrain and are poorly equipped. However, Army Chief General Somdhat Attanand supports the purchase of the 160 ageing Pz68/88 tanks, which were made in 1968.

Other officials that support the purchase are his former army cadet classmates Gen Veerachai Iamsa-ard, the army chief-of-staff, and Lt-Gen Amnart Meeklinhom, an assistant army chief-of-staff for logistics.

General Somdhat claimed that the alternative option of upgrading and maintaining the Thailand army's old US-made M41-A3 tanks would cost more.

The total cost of the Swiss tanks, which is a package of 160 Pz68/88 tanks together with 24 recovery tanks and 12 bridge-laying tanks, is US$49 million (about two billion baht). The Swiss tanks are manufactured by Ruag Land Systems of Switzerland.

Rebuilding the M41-A3 tanks will cost 35 million baht each. Initially, the army scheduled to upgrade 150 of the 285 M41s over five years, at a cost of more than five billion bath. Upgrading the tanks would mean the replacement of petrol engines with diesel and the installation of new fire control systems, night vision equipment, communications gear and 76mm anti-aircraft guns.

The Swiss tanks were manufactured in 1968 and modified in 1988. However, they are found to be in good condition. The Pz68 is more advanced than the M41 because it has stabilisers for its fire control platform and comes with diesel engines, which are safer and use less fuel.

There have been reports that the tanks are not equipped with a secondary finder scope or any night vision equipment, which means that General Somdhat would need approval to buy the equipment as an optional extra.

The tanks are also considerably heavier than the M41s, which may make them unsuitable for Thailand's soft terrain.

General Somdhat shrugged off these concerns citing that the Pz68/88 tanks were lighter then the M60-A3 tanks and will suit the country's terrain and needs. He also stated that the Swiss tank offer was too good to ignore.

However, Gen Somdhat has yet to convince Supreme Commander Gen Surayud Chulanont, Defence Minister Gen Thammarak Isarangkura na Ayudhaya and the Defence Ministry's weaponry standards committee.