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Interview with Gen Surayud Chulano
- Subject: Interview with Gen Surayud Chulano
- From: darnott@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 07 Nov 1999 11:15:00
Subject: Interview with Gen Surayud Chulanont
Jane's Defence Weekly
November 3, 1999
THE JANE'S INTERVIEW
BYLINE: Jim Wolf is a JDW Special Correspondent based in Hawaii
Chosen to lead the Royal Thai Army (RTA) a year ago, Gen Surayud
Chulanont is seeking to complete a major restructuring that has
been under way for over a decade.
"We've already started [this process] in the army," he says. "But
we're still working on how we'll operate under a restructured
Supreme Command, and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) should decide
[on the broader plan] before year-end."
The Thai armed forces launched a doctrinal shift in the early
1980s, replacing their focus on counter-insurgency warfare with one
concentrated on conventional operations. This saw the air force and
navy gain more importance, while the army announced a restructuring
plan based on a proposed cut in its force strength by half (Jane's
Defence Weekly 19 August 1989).
Previous army chiefs, perhaps less emphatically committed to
change than Gen Surayud, allowed this plan to languish. Thailand
outlined a revised version, now somewhat modified, in the 1996
defence white paper (JDW 17 April 1996).
"There are three factors behind the adjustments," says Gen
Surayud, noting that the basic thrust is unchanged. "Threat
assessment, personnel problems and the ongoing economic crisis
[that arose in mid-1997]."
Border security remains the army's main mission but the threat of
full-scale conventional attack dissipated with Vietnam's withdrawal
from Cambodia and attention has shifted to the stability of
Thailand's western border with Myanmar. The main issue over
personnel centres on the army's organisation - traditionally
top-heavy with a surfeit of generals, special colonels and older
non-commissioned officers (NCOs).
"The Supreme Command has approved our proposal for an early
retirement plan. About 2,500 officers and NCOs have volunteered to
resign next [fiscal] year," says Gen Surayud on efforts to trim the
senior ranks. Local analysts counter that the real need is for
government-level action. This would adjust legislation requiring
all personnel to serve until aged 60, which has distorted the rank
system, and loosen salary constraints that force many military
personnel to seek parallel employment.
The economic crisis has, meanwhile, forced a rethinking on
procurement plans as defence funding dropped by over one-third from
its level two years ago. The revamped RTA will seek to improve
mobility and firepower, with its regular strength reduced by 17%
over the next eight years to 190,000 from the current 230,000. "We
aim to accent combined operations and acquire a few new
technologies, like some night-fighting capability and better
[command, control, communications and intelligence] C3I," says Gen
Surayud. "On a higher level, we are trying to operate more closely
with the air force and the navy." The shift to combined operations
began in June 1997, when the army formed its first rapid deployment
force. The last of four such units, each of battalion strength,
should become operational before year-end. For the RTA, such forces
are linked to better border security rather than power projection.
Joint operations, although still in their infancy, are central to
the broader restructuring which still awaits MoD approval. This
would see the creation of unified commands overseen by a Joint
Chiefs of Staff committee, but effective implementation could
remain an issue.
The army chief takes a realistic view on funding constraints
rooted in Thailand's economic downturn. "We know full well that it
will be very difficult to procure new equipment," he says. The RTA
has reacted by cancelling some programmes, such as the planned move
to replace tracked armoured vehicles with wheeled platforms, and
developing a new interest in upgrading existing equipment.
Gen Surayud highlights three procurement priorities: a new C3I
system; improved ground-based early-warning systems for border
areas; and a life-extension programme involving nearly 100 Bell
UH-1H tactical helicopters. "Our other equipment requirements are
small-scale, such as 40mm grenade launchers," he says.
Cost-cutting measures have been introduced to trim maintenance and
operational expenditure, most notably by reducing combat-readiness
requirements. In future, combat-readiness status should be linked
to a massive revamp intended to forge a more effective reserve
system. The army chief also points to long-term efforts that are
under way aimed at reducing the cost of an all-volunteer force, an
alternative to the limited national service system currently in
place that is so far proving prohibitively expensive.
One area planned for expansion is the RTA's rural development
mission; Gen Surayud particularly points to the army's role in
supporting royal-initiated projects. "The number of personnel in
the [engineering] division will be increased, but it has not yet
been decided by how many. The priorities are to strengthen [our
activities] in the 2nd and 4th Army Regions [covering the northeast
and the south, respectively]."
Appointed by reformist Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, Gen Surayud
is working towards the government's agenda by bringing greater
professionalism to the army's procurement system. The main
achievement of his leadership is that in a country known for its
string of armed coups, most recently in 1991, he has steered the
RTA from its long-standing involvement in politics and foreign
policy to concentrate on military affairs.
"We still have a long way to go," says Gen Surayud. "The [defence]
modernisation programme launched nearly 20 years ago is only half
- Robert Karniol JDW Asia-Pacific Editor
GRAPHIC: Photograph 1, GEN SURAYUD CHULANONT - COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF,
ROYAL THAI ARMY Photo: R Karniol/Jane's
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