According to a report in local Thai media, the Royal Thai Army (RTA) seeks to add more Chinese-built VT-4 main battle tanks to its existing inventory. The January 16 report indicates a purchase of up to 14 additional VT-4 (the export model of the Chinese MBT-3000 design) tanks from China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO), at a cost of THB2.3 billion ($72.5 million).
VT-4 tanks ordered by Thailand pic.twitter.com/j72lgLjonn
— dafeng cao (@dafengcao) August 16, 2017
If approved by the government, the additional tanks will bring the total RTA inventory up to 52 VT-4s. A first batch procurement of 28 VT-4s was made with China in 2016, with a second order for 10 additional units at a cost of $60 million following on April 4, 2017.
At the time of the follow-on order Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan stated that a third order for 11 units would follow at a later date.
The RTA has held plans to acquire as many as 200 new tanks for its armored cavalry battalions.
The additions of the VT-4 and the Ukrainian-built T-84 Oplot-M (49 units ordered in 2011) allow the RTA to gradually move away from its legacy inventory of American-built M41 Bulldogs and M60A1 and M60A3 models. The replacement of the aging M41s in particular is a priority for the Royal Thai Army.
As it began outlining requirements for the M41 successor, the service was forced to take into consideration an altered geopolitical environment whereby Thailand’s ruling military junta was not held in favor with the country’s longtime ally, the United States. Thus Thai military planners began to expand their horizons toward supplier nations willing to sell materiel without political strings attached.
As a result, the RTA narrowed down its M41 main battle tank successor requirement to two models, the Russian T-90 and the VT-4, both based on the Soviet-legacy T-72 tank design.
Despite the orders of Chinese tanks, Thailand is still believed to be interested in acquiring the Russian T-90S (or MS) or possibly the T-14 Armata in future years in order to bring the new inventory up to the aforementioned 200‑tank-fleet replenishment goal.
Royal Thai Army M60A1 tanks during Cobra Gold 2014 exercise
Photo via Mark Holloway