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Thailand Boosts Ground Forces With Ukrainian Armor

June 12, 2011

Ukrainian BTR3

With large defense purchases in vogue, Thailand is spending an estimated $200 million plus on Ukrainian-made armor. Starting in 2006, the purchasing arm of the Thai military already ordered a batch of BTR-3E1 APCs, a decision that generated some controversy over its role in a questionable bidding process.

Despite this setback, Thailand already received more than a dozen vehicles and auxiliary systems like simulators for training purposes this year. The BTR-3E1 in the Thai arsenal marks a significant upgrade of its mechanized forces and an additional 121 of the heavily armed BTR-3E1s are due between 2011-2012.

The BTR-3E1 is a Ukrainian variant of the Soviet/Russian BTR-80. Its distinctive features are a new German-made engine and a powerful Shturm turret. The product of a joint venture between Ukraine’s state owned companies and the UAE’s Adcom Manufaturing, the BTR-3E1 is arguably the best armed 8X8 class of APC today, with a 30mm cannon, ATGMs, a 7.62mm  machinegun, and smoke dischargers. Like other vehicles of its kind the BTR also has a modular armor kit, meaning it can carry standoff slat armor to deter shaped warheads such as the ubiquitous RPG-7.

The earlier controversy surrounding the BTR-3E1 began in 2007, a year after the order was placed. The problem sprang from the BTR’s sudden inclusion in the list of contenders long after the deadline for bids had passed. At the time, the Thai military was considering similar vehicles from China, the United States, and Canada. As of this writing, within five years Thailand is expected to field some 200 BTR-3E1’s.

Ukrainian T84 Oplot

The Thai-Ukrainian connection doesn’t end with the bulk purchase of APCs. On top of the $130 million BTR-3E1 contract is an additional order for 49 T-84 Oplot main battle tanks. Like most Ukrainian weapons systems, the Oplot is a modernized Soviet-era vehicle; the T-80U to be specific. The only operators of this third-generation MBT are Pakistan and Cyprus.

Unfortunately, even the Oplot buy wasn’t spared from negative scrutiny as reports have surfaced that Thai armored units were skeptical of its autoloader that feeds the 125mm main gun via a carousel underneath the turret. The 49 Oplots destined for Thai armored battalions will replace the aging fleet of American M41s and M47s currently in use.

Such encouraging transactions can be interpreted as a signal to the global arms market that Eastern European weapons are as competitive as any. Aside from Ukraine, its neighbors Belarus, Poland, Romania, Serbia, and the Czech Republic are enjoying considerable degree of export success in places like the Middle East and Asia.

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