Thai military plans hefty shopping list

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BANGKOK, Nov 26 (Reuters) Thailand's armed forces will submit a 10-year, 8.8 billion dollars shopping list for a submarine, warplanes and other hardware to the new civilian government after elections next month, officials said today.

The military, which overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup last year, said the spending spree was necessary for Thailand to keep up with its better-equipped neighbours.

''Every country knows what its neighbours have and what it needs to maintain the balance of power,'' Lieutenant General Pitsanu Puchakarn told Reuters after a weekend meeting of armed forces chiefs.

''If we don't think about these issues now, it will be too late a decade from now,'' he said.

The military has faced criticism for buying new weapons at a time when the country's economic growth has slowed due to post-coup political uncertainty.

But Pitsanu said the military chiefs proposed to raise defence spending to 1.8 per cent of GDP in the first five years to 2014 and to 2.0 per cent from 2015-19.

That compared to 1.58 per cent of GDP this year.

Singapore, which has the best-equipped military in southeast Asia, spends about 4.0 per cent of GDP on defence.

Thai Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas has said the military needed new tanks, ships, fighters and helicopters after several years of lean budgets following the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis.

The military-appointed government has already approved the 6.7 billion baht (200 million dollars) purchase of Israeli guns, Ukrainian armoured vehicles and Chinese missiles.

Last month, the air force said it planned to buy six Swedish-made Gripen fighters for 19.5 billion baht, with a second batch of six to be reviewed by the new government.

High on the navy's wish list is a submarine to patrol the Andaman Sea and for joint patrols of the Malacca Strait with Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The Navy's first submarine would cost more than 40 billion baht, Pitsanu said, and join a Thai fleet that includes southeast Asia's first aircraft carrier.

The Spanish-built Chakri Naruebet cost 230 million dollars when Thailand took delivery in 1997, but high operating costs have kept it mostly in port.

REUTERS PD BD1430

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