Although small, The Thai navy was very proud of its Chakri Naruebet Carrier. The activities of the Royal Thai Navy will have the presence of an aircraft carrier, a dream weapon for most maritime states.
The aircraft carrier is considered a symbol of a nation’s naval power, a special warship designed to deploy and recover aircraft, like a floating air base on the sea. It can be seen that owning and operating an aircraft carrier is not easy. Since the introduction of the aircraft carrier to the present day, the countries with aircraft carriers are just enough to count on the fingers, and those are the countries with the world’s leading economic potential. However, there was an exception. In March 1997, Thailand became the first country in Southeast Asia to own an aircraft carrier, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet, with the hull number CVH-911.
Thailand’s possession of an aircraft carrier at the time was considered a remarkable event of the Asian military and the world. At that time, the other “big brothers” like China, Japan and South Korea, did not have aircraft carriers. All of Asia, only India had the experience of operating an old ship bought from Britain, the INS Viraat.
In addition to being the only carrier in Southeast Asia, HTMS Chakri Naruebet also owns a “world record” which is the planet’s cheapest aircraft carrier. In early 1992, the Thai government signed a contract to build a warship with Spain. The ship was laid down in July 1994 at Bazán’s shipyard in Ferrol, launched on January 20, 1996 and officially commissioned on March 27, 1997. The cost of building the ship was only about 336 million dollars, much cheaper than other carriers of the United States, Britain, France or Russia.
Of course, “you get what you pay for”. Low cost, Chakri Naruebet would not be as big and modern as other advanced aircraft carriers. She has only the same displacement as a Russian Slava-class cruiser, 11,486 tons at full load, a length of 182.65m (599.2 ft), a flight deck of about 174m (571 ft), a beam of 22.5m (74 ft) and a draft of 6.12m (20.1 ft).
Chakri Naruebet Design
The design of Chakri Naruebet was based on the design of the Príncipe de Asturias of the Spanish Navy but had been simplified to reduce complexity. The design is formally called the “Offshore Patrol Helicopter Carrier” by the Royal Thai Navy. Her name in Thai means “The sovereignty of the Chakri dynasty”, which is the Thai monarchy’s ruling family. Basically, the design of Chakri Naruebet is quite similar to traditional carriers. The island superstructure is neatly placed on the starboard side, near the stern. She is fitted with an aircraft ski-jump, originally intended to operate a group of fixed-wing fighters and helicopters.
Of course Chakri Naruebet does not own any nuclear engine. Instead, she was equipped with a propulsion system driving 2 shafts with 5-bladed propellers, consisting of two General Electric LM2500 gas turbines engines, producing 22,125 shaft horsepower. There are also two Bazán-MTU 16V1163 TB83 diesel engines, providing 5,600 brake horsepower.
The light aircraft carrier of the Royal Thai Navy can reach a maximum speed of 25.5 knots and cruise speed of 17.2 knots. The range is about 10,000 nmi at 12 knots, and only 7,150 nmi at 16.5 knots. The warship has a company of 62 officers, 393 sailors, and 146 aircrew. Up to 675 additional personnel can be transported, usually from the Royal Thai Marine Corps.
For self-defense, Chakri Naruebet is equipped with three Matra Sadral sextuple surface-to-air missile launchers firing Mistral missiles to deal with long-range threats. For close-in threats, at least two 12.7 mm heavy machine guns are equipped. The vessel is also fitted for but not with an 8-cell Mark 41 Vertical launch system for Sea Sparrow missiles, and four Phalanx close-in weapon systems.
About the sensors and onboard processing system, she is equipped with Hughes SPS-52C air search radar, operating on the E/F band. She also carries 4 SRBOC decoy launchers and an SLQ-32 towed sonar array to deal with underwater threats. A pair of Kelvin-Hughes 1007 navigational radar systems provides navigational capabilities.
The power of any aircraft carrier is in what it can carry. Interestingly, Chakri Naruebet is serving as a carrier, but almost “nothing” at all. Given its modest dimension, it’s not uncommon for the ship’s carrying capacity to be limited from 10 to 15 aircraft depending on the type. For example, if carrying helicopters, she can carry more than 10, but if carrying fighters, the number decreases. To serve the Naruebet Chakra, Bangkok has purchased 9 Spanish AV-8S Matadors jets. This is a type of attack aircraft capable of short takeoff and landing, very suitable for Chakri Naruebet flight deck.
Although small, The Thai navy was very proud of its assets at the time. The activities of the Royal Thai Navy since then will have the presence of an aircraft carrier, a dream weapon for most maritime states. With this vessel, they can get the best support in Thailand’s amphibious operations, coast guard patrols and exclusive economic zones, participating in disaster relief operations.
However, the joy was too short. The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis caused Chakri Naruebet to suffer losses along with her country. The crisis had a strong impact on Thailand’s growing economy, which affected the carrier’s operating budget. At that time, the budget was available for the only Southeast Asian carrier to operate a single day a month, the rest of time spent alongside as a “part-time tourist attraction” to make money. The situation was so bad that naval experts considered Chakri Naruebet to be “one of the largest and most expensive royal yachts in the world” rather than an aircraft carrier. Thai media has mocked it as “Thai-tanic”.
The AV-8S Matadors were in the same situation. The lack of funding led to the inability to purchase spare parts, rendering these aircraft inoperable. In 2006, the Thai Navy retired all nine of these strike aircraft. Since then, Chakri Naruebet officially no longer jet squadron.
Since that time, whenever going to the sea, Chakri Naruebet usually carries an empty deck or few SeaHawk helicopters. Perhaps with patrol and rescue missions, HTMS Chakri Naruebet still responds well, but in combat role, it is a big problem.
In general, although it has never been admitted, it can be confirmed that HTMS Chakri Naruebet is a failed investment of the Royal Thai Navy. And it is also a lesson for the Thai government as well as many other countries when researching armed procurement.
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