Rapid Deployment Forces (RDF)
The first RDF unit, with its core provided by the 3rd Battalion 31st Infantry Regiment, is based at Camp Erawan in the 1st Army Region's Lopburi district. Similar units are being formed in the country's three other army regions. Formally part of the 1st Army Region, the RDF is actually under the army chief's direct command and can be deployed at short notice anywhere in the country. The RTA's RDF concept appears to be directed at its need for greater flexibility to counter threats to its borders quickly, rather than to project power outside Thailand. The RDF comprises two infantry companies; one airborne company drawn from the Special Forces; one artillery battery; one light-tank company; one engineering platoon; and an air-defense sub-unit. The RDF is the army's first battalion-size combined-arms formation. The Army Aviation Center (AAC) provides air support. The AAC inventory includes four Chinooks, approximately 60 operational Bell UH-1 and nine operational Bell 212 light-support helicopters and four Bell AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters.
In September 1997, the RDF held its first training exercises. It has received priority funding to pursue its training program despite budget constraints that forced the RTA to slash its other exercise costs by 40 per cent during 1998 and it is viewed by some analysts as the army's best trained unit. The RTA has limited experience in combined arms operations and has been notoriously deficient in joint operations - for example, in the area of forward air control. It is unclear whether the RDF is training as a combined force or whether its component elements are training independently. Suspicions over the battalion's current effectiveness as a rapid-deployment force are rooted in the army's boast that the unit was combat-ready within three weeks of its creation and in the absence of any new doctrine or tactics. The RDF has been reported as deficient in several areas, including tactical mobility, air defense and anti-tank capability. However, the army has said it intends to address these weaknesses. The army has acknowledged that the battalion is `experimental', with details still to be refined before the concept is pursued further. The planned development process should see similar RDF battalions emerge in Thailand's three other army regions, to give a total of four. There is some speculation that the RDF battalions may eventually form the nucleus of four RDF regiments.
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