BANGKOK, Thailand -- Bangkok's coup-installed regime is considering
the purchase of three attack submarines from China for $1 billion,
after Thailand received exclusive anti-submarine warfare training from
the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet.

"We won't keep them to fight or shoot at any one. We will keep them so
that other people will be considerate of us," coup leader Gen. Prayuth
Chan-ocha said on July 7.

"You can see that other countries have problems in their seas. We have
to think, are we going to have problems in the future? It's all about
capability," Gen. Prayuth said at a news conference in Government
House, his political office after also grabbing the prime ministry.

"Do we only have the Gulf of Thailand as our sea? We also have the
Andaman Sea, do we not?"

Asked by a journalist if the submarine deal was an attempt to
strengthen ties with China, Gen. Prayuth replied:

"There is no need for that. We have a good relationship with China
already. Every country is good to us, except those who are still stuck
on the word 'democracy'," the coup leader said, referring to the U.S.,
European Union and other mostly Western nations.

Criticism of the deal has been strong in Bangkok's media, with some
editorials saying it would wasteĀ  money because Thailand has no
enemies and the military previously bought an unimpressive aircraft
carrier and blimp, plus fake bomb detectors.

The three Chinese attack subs, costing $355 million each, are
reportedly the quiet non-nuclear Yuan 041 which boasts an advanced
"air-independent propulsion" system allowing the vessels to stay
submerged for an extended time.

"If a war breaks out, nearly all of our surface ships will be wiped
out. Submarines are what will survive," Thailand's Navy Commander Adm.
Kraisorn Chansuvanich said on July 7.

"The Gulf of Thailand isn't so shallow that we can't use submarines,"
Adm. Kraisorn said, defending the planned purchase.

"Neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and
Singapore have had submarines in their arsenals for many years," Adm.
Kraisorn said in April.

New submarines would be a "strategy to improve our armed forces," he said.

"Even if the [Thai] government approved the purchase today, we will
not be able to acquire them instantly, because time will be needed to
build the ships and send our personnel to receive training and improve
their expertise for one to two years.

"So, it will take at least five or six years before submarines can
enter our service. If we do not start now, we have to wait for a long
time." the admiral said.

"The Chinese-made submarines are worth the money," he said.

In June, Thailand's naval procurement committee voted to buy the three
Chinese submarines.

Their choice awaits Gen. Prayuth's final decision.

South Korea, Germany, Russia, France and Sweden are also trying to
sell subs to Thailand.

Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwon, who visited China twice in
2014, "backs the submarine project, citing a growing territorial
threat," the Bangkok Post said.

"The submarine purchase could even help lift technical knowledge of
Thai human resources, considering the advanced technology equipped in
the Chinese submarines," Panitan Wattana-yagorn, a security adviser to
Defense Minister Gen. Prawit, told reporters.

Thailand's junta may present a stumbling block if Bangkok wants to
purchase European subs, because the European Union criticized Gen.
Prayuth's coup and restricted relations with his regime.

Thailand has infrastructure for a "submarine division" on the Gulf of
Thailand, but does not possess any submarines.

Its naval headquarters is at Sattahip Navy Base, southeast of Bangkok
along the gulf.

The shallow gulf washes the coasts of Cambodia and Vietnam, and opens
to the dangerously contested South China Sea which Beijing wants to
dominate.

Chevron -- Thailand's largest foreign investor -- and other energy
extractors have rigs and platforms across the gulf.

Those platforms are cited as targets to protect during military and
anti-terrorism exercises, including America's annual multinational
Cobra Gold.

The Andaman Sea on Thailand's southwest coast laps Malaysia, Indonesia
and Myanmar, alternatively known as Burma, where Bangkok has
investments in a multinational Dawei deep sea port project.

Thailand's last submarine was decommissioned in 1951 after navy
officers attempted a coup which failed after the army and air force
bombed their Bangkok positions, resulting in 68 dead including 44
civilians.

"Following the failed coup d'etat of 1951, the government moved to
dismantle the navy's influence in the armed force, stripping it of
submarines, a marine force, and war planes," Khaosod news reported.

"The navy's marine force was restored in 1955 on the advice of the
United States military, who trained the corps," Khaosod said.

After Gen. Prayuth seized absolute power through his bloodless May
2014 coup, the U.S. State Department repeatedly criticized his
regime's harsh human rights abuses, called for a return to democracy,
and cancelled some U.S. aid.

The Pentagon however continued strengthening Gen. Prayuth's military,
enabling him to control this relatively wealthy Buddhist-majority
country.

The U.S. expects Thailand will remain a friendly treaty ally amid
Bangkok's increasing economic, diplomatic and military dependency on
Beijing.

The U.S. Navy, during its annual Guardian Sea 2015 exercise, taught
anti-submarine warfare exclusively to Thailand, finishing on May 20.

China did not criticize Gen. Prayuth's coup or his punishing lockdown
on free speech and political activity.

Instead, China hosted the junta's top officials during trips to
Beijing and offered sweetened military and commercial deals.

"Thailand's relations with China have long been strong, and it seems
that Beijing incrementally steps up its ties with the Thai military
every time Washington pulls back," Ernest Bower and Murray Hiebert,
senior officials at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and
International Studies, wrote in June.

In April, China's Central Military Commission Vice-Chairman Xu Qilang
visited Thailand, six months after his first trip.

In February, China's Defense Minister Chang Wanquan came to Bangkok.

Gen. Prayuth, who is also prime minister, visited Beijing in December
and met Chinese President Xi Jinping less than a week after Chinese
Premier Li Keqiang visited Thailand.

Beijing now plans to buy two million tons of Thai rice and construct a
high-speed, north-south railroad across Thailand to Bangkok.

The two countries are separated by tiny landlocked Laos which provides
transport on the Mekong River and roads linking China and Thailand.

In 1949, after China's Communist Chairman Mao Zedong achieved victory,
Thailand suppressed many of its Chinese in an "anti-Reds" campaign.

During the 1960s and early 70s, Bangkok allowed Washington to use Thai
air force bases and troops during America's wars against communists in
Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

But in 1975, two months after the U.S. lost its wars in all three
countries, Mao and Thai Prime Minister Kukrit Pramoj shook hands in
Beijing, normalizing relations.

"Sink these submarines," the headline of a Bangkok Post editorial said
on July 1, warning: "The navy's actions on subs remain opaque,
unexplained and quite possibly wrong."

The editorial echoed other critics who said a previous coup-installed
military regime in 1991 wasted money buying Thailand's first solo
aircraft carrier which has been used only for disaster relief.

In 2006, Thailand's military, narcotics bureau, airports and other
security forces were allegedly duped into buying 1,576 fake British
GT200 "bomb detectors" for $30 million, despite a U.S. Embassy alert
that the non-functioning devices were "like a toy."

In 2009, Thailand's army spent $10 million on a U.S.-built
surveillance blimp for use against Islamist guerrillas in the south,
but it crashed in 2013 "because of turbulence" and has remained mostly
out of sight and unused.

The Sky Dragon blimp was built by California-based Aeros, and sold to
Thailand by Aria International, in Arlington, Virginia.