Murphy's Law: For Want Of A Nail…

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November 4, 2009: Thailand is in trouble because its army bought an aerial reconnaissance system from a vendor who went bankrupt before all of the equipment could be delivered. Now the military is trying to find out who screwed up, and whether corruption was involved. The company that makes the blimp system being bought, also makes cheaper aerostat systems, which the army ignored in favor of a more expensive system.

Earlier this year, the Thai army decided to buy an aerostat system for use in the south. At first it was thought that they were buying the aerostat systems the U.S. had been using with such success in Iraq and Afghanistan. This type of system consists of a truck carrying the gear which can inflate the aerostat within an hour, and get it up to an altitude of 1,000 feet (which means its cameras can see out to about sixty kilometers.) The aerostat can carry day or night cameras (including a thermal sensor). In rural areas, the aerostat enables security forces to quickly get persistent aerial surveillance over a large area (2800 square kilometers.) A camera with a powerful zoom lens enables the operator to get a close look at anything down there. 

But instead, the Thais bought a more expensive manned blimp type system; the Aeros 40D. The army was paying $10.5 million for each of two systems, more than twice what unmanned systems cost. The aerostat itself cost $7.8 million, while the cameras cost two million dollars, and the ground communications systems $600,000. A third company, Aria International, acted as a middleman, and has built a hanger and an airship, imported the Aeros 40D blimp, but is unable to pay for the cameras. The Aeros 40D arrived three months ago, and Thai personnel have been trained to operate it. But without the cameras, the blimp is pretty useless.

A similar situation has arisen with the purchase of 96 wheeled armored vehicles from Ukraine. This is being held up because a German firm is being prevented from shipping the needed engines, because the German government wanted to show its displeasure with a 2006 military coup in Thailand (there have since been elections in Thailand, but the Germans are still upset.) The Ukrainian vehicle manufacturer has since obtained engines from an American supplier.

 


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