Army to decommission B350m blimp after 8 years in use over South

The army will soon decommission an airship which has been used for reconnaissance missions over the southern border provinces for eight years after it has been criticised for not being worthy of operations, army chief Gen Chalermchai Sittisart said.

Army chief Gen Chalermchai Sittisart

Gen Chalermchai said since the army’s use of the blimp has been criticised, with the airship’s body said to have expired, he has ordered the suspension of its operations for fear it could be too dangerous for army personnel to work on it.

However, since the high-definition reconnaissance cameras fitted on the airship are still usuable, they may be removed for use with some other aircraft. The Internal Security Operations Command Region 4’s forward headquarters is considering this matter, said the army chief.

“We will not buy a new one. This can be taken as the end of the use of the blimp in the southern border provinces. However, its components may still be used with other aircraft,” Gen Chalermchai said.

The army bought the reconnaissance system for 350 million baht, of which 260 million baht was for the airship and 70 million baht for the cameras, in 2009 when Gen Anupong Paojinda was army chief.

During the past eight years in use, problems have been found on the blimp, including leaks. Since the blimp is flown with helium, which is very expensive, it has been kept in a hangar of the 15th Infantry Division in Nong Chik district of Pattani province.

When Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha was army chief, he hired a company for 50 million baht per year for maintenance. The blimp had been occasionally used but later kept aground unused.