Bangladesh to buy first submarines, Prime Minister announces

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh will acquire its first submarines to boost its naval power in the Bay of Bengal, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced only days after she signed the country's largest defence deal.

"We have made a decision to add submarines with base facilities to Bangladesh's navy very soon to make it a deterrent force," Ms Hasina said, as she commissioned the country's first domestically produced warship at a base in the southern city of Khulna. "We will build a modern, three-dimensional navy for future generations which will be capable of facing any challenge during a war on our maritime boundary."

The announcement is the latest sign of Ms Hasina's willingness to spend heavily on defence, coming only nine days after she signed a US$1 billion (S$1.2 billion) defence deal in Russia for the purchase of training fighters, helicopters and anti-tank missiles.

Analysts say the deal with Moscow represents the biggest military purchase agreement since impoverished Bangladesh won its independence in 1971.

Ms Hasina did not give details of how many submarines the country would be purchasing and from where, but a senior army general told reporters on Monday that Bangladesh was in negotiations with China on the subject.

Bangladesh, a third of whose 153 million population lives below the poverty line, has been expanding its defence capabilities in recent years, building a new air base close to neighbouring Myanmar and adding new frigates.

A United Nations tribunal ended a territorial dispute between Bangladesh and Myanmar last March. The row brought the two sides close to military conflict in 2008, when Myanmar sent naval ships to support drilling for gas.

Bangladesh has also a longstanding dispute with neighbouring India over their maritime boundary in the resources-rich Bay of Bengal.

Ms Hasina said the amicable settlement of the sea dispute with Myanmar has ensured the country's sovereignty over 111,631 sq km of maritime area, nearly the size of the country itself.

She added the defence purchase was essential to ensure security of the huge area, in which Dhaka last month invited bidding from international oil companies to drill for new gas and oil reserves.

According to the state-run BSS news agency, the new warship that Ms Hasina officially commissioned on Thursday was made in Khulna Shipyard under the supervision of the Bangladesh Navy.

The BNS Padma is armed with four 37mm and two 20mm cannons to resist land and air attacks and capable of laying mines.