MELBOURNE, Australia — Thailand has signed an agreement with a Chinese shipbuilder that will see the southeast Asian nation’s Navy receive an amphibious transport vessel from China, giving a much-needed boost to its amphibious forces.
In a signing ceremony held in China’s capital Beijing on Monday, the Royal Thai Navy signed a shipbuilding agreement with state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation for a Type 071E amphibious transport dock.
The Type 071E is an export variant of the Type 071, or Yuzhao LPD, currently in service with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy. The PLAN has six Type 071s in service, with two more being built at the company’s Hudong-Zhonghua shipyard in Shanghai.
No details regarding the price, delivery dates or onboard systems were disclosed, though Thai newspaper The Bangkok Post reported that the ship will cost $200.7 million, with construction to last three years. Thai media reports previously said the Chinese design would cost $130 million.
The People’s Liberation Army’s official news portal, Chinamail.com, reported that “the Type 071E has been integrated with several major improvements and upgrades” and is “more advanced in technology and more powerful in comprehensive performance than the PLA’s in-commission Type 071 integrated LPD.”
The PLAN’s 689-foot, 25,000-ton Type 071s can each accommodate 600-800 troops depending on the mission as well as two landing craft carried on davits mounted on its superstructure. The ship has a stern well dock that can launch and recover up to four Type 726 air-cushioned landing craft. It can also carry up to four large helicopters in its hangars and has two helicopter landing spots.
Thailand uses the carrying capacity of its amphibious ships for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions in response to natural disasters (mostly flooding as a result of annual monsoonal rains) in addition to more traditional military amphibious operations.
Thailand’s naval force currently operates the HTMS Angthong, a 462-foot Endurance-class LPD acquired from the Marine division of Singapore’s ST Engineering in 2008. That ship was put into service in 2012. The service has used its sole aircraft carrier HTMS Chakri Naruebet for disaster relief missions, acting as a helicopter carrier.
Thailand is a regional ally of the United States, having been designated a major non-NATO ally in 2003. However, like most other nations in the region, it also has close ties with China. Thai forces operate Chinese-built tanks and armored personnel carriers, and the country plans to acquire Chinese-built submarines.
The Thai military also conducts exercises with Chinese air and naval forces, with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force recently deploying Chengdu J-10 fighters and airborne early warning aircraft to northern Thailand for the latest iteration of the Falcon Strike exercises.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.