Defence minister counters budget attack with unified armament plan

MONDAY, JUNE 24, 2024

Suthin outlines strategy for streamlined modern military after opposition blasts focus on personnel-heavy armed forces

Defence Minister Suthin Klungsang returned fire as his military-spending plans came under attack by the opposition during the ongoing budget debate in Parliament.

On Friday, Move Forward’s Wiroj Lakkanaadisorn blasted the defence budget for prioritising troop salaries and benefits rather than the high-tech weapons and equipment needed for modern warfare.   

Wiroj said the focus on manpower demonstrated that Thailand lacked a masterplan for strategic military development. As a result, procurement of weapons and equipment by the armed forces did not align with current threats and urgent situations.

The procurement process is also disorganized, he said, with each branch buying separately from various countries, leading to difficulties in mission integration and equipment compatibility. This results in wasteful spending and maintenance issues, Wiroj said. He added that the 2025 budget allocation for the Army, Navy, Air Force in a 2:1:1 ratio failed to account for the modern security context that prioritises technology to reduce risks to troops.

Suthin hit back by insisting the ministry was busy planning a new "One Strategy, One Armament" approach due to launch in 2027 (fiscal year 2028). This year marked the beginning of significant changes, including reducing the number of generals and converting active-duty soldiers into civilian defence personnel, the minister said. The number of conscripted soldiers was also being cut in favour of voluntary enlistment, he added.

As a result, a defence budget traditionally dominated by personnel costs (up to 70%) would free up more funds for weapon procurement and improving welfare and living conditions of military personnel at all levels, Suthin said.

In the meantime, a military working group would be established to outline a threat strategy and assess national security risks over the next five to 10 years. This would identify threats from land, sea, or air, helping the ministry and Thai Armed Forces Headquarters to develop a white-paper masterplan to guide the three military branches.

If the assessment found land-based threats from neighbouring countries, the budget focus would shift to the Army and the Air Force, potentially changing the ratio to 2:1.5:1.5, Suthin said.

The three military branches have been tasked with evaluating their weapons and equipment to identify those nearing the end of their service life and in need of replacement. Thai Armed Forces Headquarters will identify urgent needs, ensuring that procurements are integrated and can work across the three branches, Suthin said
In the past, the independent purchase of weapons by each branch led to issues such as radar systems for detecting aircraft intrusions that could alert the Air Force but not the Army or Navy.

From now on, weapons procured must be compatible across branches, the minister said. For example, new fighter jets purchased by the Air Force should be capable of data linkage with Navy warships.

A Defence Ministry committee chaired by the minister and armed forces representatives would consider requests for new military equipment in three categories:

High-cost projects: Large weapon systems and equipment that require significant budget allocation.

Mass procurement: Items like drones and rifles that are needed by all three branches will be considered for bulk purchase from a single brand, company, and country to save costs.

Domestic defence industry: Procurement that supports locally produced equipment that meets standards.

Suthin said the “One Strategy, One Armament” plan would lay strong foundations for a streamlined military, enhancing its ability to protect the nation and its people effectively.