Military


Royal Thai Navy

Although Thailand had small naval components throughout much of its long history, the development of a modern navy capable of carrying out combat missions dated from the post-World War II period. Thereafter, the size and efficiency of the Royal Thai Navy increased steadily. Of the three service branches, the navy was the least involved in national politics and therefore was able to concentrate more of its time and efforts on its security mission.

The navy's combat forces included the Royal Fleet and the Royal Thai Marine Corps. The 130 vessels of the Royal Fleet included frigates equipped with surface-to-air missiles, fast attack craft armed with surface-to-surface missiles, large coastal patrol craft, coastal minelayers, coastal minesweepers, landing craft, and training ships.

The mission spaces of Thailand navy include the Thai Gulf and Indian Ocean, separated by land, and river. Naval affairs were directed by the country's most senior admiral from his Bangkok headquarters. The naval commander in chief was supported by staff groups that planned and administered such activities as logistics, education and training, and various special services. The headquarters general staff functioned like those of corresponding staffs in the army and air force command structures.

Thailand's naval fleet, though small, operates primarily out of the sprawling, modern naval station at Sattahip, southeast of Bangkok. The Royal Navy has a marine corps, modeled on the American pattern, skilled in both amphibious and jungle operations. The RTN has personnel strength of 64,000. This complement includes the manpower of the Naval Air Arm (1,200), Marine Corps (20,000) and Coastal Defense Command. There are 27,000 conscripts in the navy; enlistment is for two years of national service. Reportedly, it is the least politicized of the three services, although the navy is developing a blue-water capability which may increase political prominence. Thailand's Andaman Sea region is the likely focus of such an initiative. Procurements have been consistent with this plan. A major concern for the navy is distributing its new equipment in the most efficient way.

According to Janes, "The Royal Thai Navy's (RTN) ambitions are not matched by its capabilities. This reflects the RTN's relative weakness in a military dominated by the army and economic constraints that have left the navy with huge obligations - such as its ineffective aircraft carrier - and few operational vessels. However, Thailand's present strategic posture does not require a large fleet - merely enough ships to maintain a regular presence in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand / South China Sea Gulf to protect national offshore and maritime interests and to enforce sovereignty.... The RTN has limited capability to carry out its primary mission of providing seaward defence in the Gulf of Thailand, South China Sea and Andaman Sea. This capability is largely defined by the absence of any serious external maritime threats beyond countering piracy, narcotics, arms and people smuggling and fishery protection."

The navy took steps to upgrade its maintenance and support capability, partly as a result of the acquisition of the large aircraft carrier and replenishment ship. The Chuk Samut facility within Sattahip Navy Base includes a first-class dry dock built by Hyundai.

The RTN has received large annual budgets to procure modern platforms and weapons in recent years based on piracy in the region and the anticipated "grab for resources in the Spratlys" that may threaten Thai shipping lanes. In recent years, the Thai government has placed greater emphasis on the RTN, in line with the growing feeling that the country's maritime interests are most threatened; these include 80 off shore oil platforms, as well as the country's vast fishing fleet (the third largest in the world). Disputed maritime borders and SLOC must also be monitored and defended. The purchase of the aircraft carrier has also been partially justified by the navy with reference to a required search and rescue capability for offshore platforms and for general disaster relief operations.

A greater role than mere defensive duty is envisaged for the RTN. The government's decision to purchase an amphibious assault ship signaled its willingness to develop a genuine blue-water capability. As maritime disputes have grown in number and magnitude since the end of the cold war, so the need for such a capacity seems to have grown. There are indications that Thailand wants not only to increase its capability in its own territorial waters but also in the Andaman Sea. Although Thailand appreciates the prestige of military hardware, she is way behind Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and even Vietnam in submarine capability. Over the years, the RTN has acquired a mix of European, US and Chinese platforms-sometimes with tragic consequences, as they are not interoperable.

The RTN has big ambitions but there are difficulties to overcome. One is the limited time at sea given to its personnel and equipment. A combination of low budget priorities, lack of spare parts and maintenance funding, and the country's past economic difficulties all detract from readiness. In addition, few personnel are sent for overseas training. Exercises are conducted with several partners including the U.S., Australia, and Malaysia, but Thai participation in these operations tends to be fairly low-key. A small number of Chinese naval personnel are known to be serving on Thai ships as part of the training process linked with the acquisition of Chinese platforms and systems but these are short-term deployments.

Command Area of operations
First Naval Area Command Eastern Gulf of Thailand
Second Naval Area Command Western Gulf of Thailand
Third Naval Area Command Andaman Sea
First Air Wing Utapao
Second Air Wing Songkhla




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