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Anupong ready for probe into airship as criticism mounts

Sep 15. 2017
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By THE NATION

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INTERIOR MINISTER General Anupong Paojinda said yesterday he was ready for a probe along with concerned parties into the alleged wasteful spending on a Bt350-million airship procured for surveillance in the Deep South during his term as Army chief.

The probe could focus on the airship’s efficiency and on corruption, if any, he added.

The former Army chief said he was in favour of the procurement being investigated amid mounting allegations after the Army announced plans on Thursday to decommission the airship, citing its expiration date.

Critics have said the airship is a graphic example of wasteful military procurement, exemplified by the purchase of handheld bomb detectors from Britain that proved to be useless. 

The airship project was procured for a total budget of Bt350 million. Anupong claimed that the camera and ground communications equipment alone cost Bt250 million.

The airship was commissioned in 2009 but it suffered a leak and had to be refilled with expensive helium. It was subsequently parked in a hangar at the 15th Infantry Division in Pattani province’s Nong Chik district. 

When Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha was Army chief, a firm was hired to provide maintenance for the airship for an additional Bt50 million a year, after which it was subsequently used sporadically. However, there was additional criticism that the airship flew lower than was safe, making it an easy target, so it was eventually put in storage again until its term of operations expired.

Army commander-in-chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart said at a press conference on Thursday that the airship had reached the end of its term of operations because it was made of canvas, but the accompanying surveillance camera system could still be used. However, the Army did not plan to buy a new airship to replace the old one.

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