Royal Thai Air Force

The Royal Thai Air Force was the most recently formed of the three services. The air force had a command structure consisting of five groups: headquarters, logistics support, education, special services, and combat forces. The headquarters group in Bangkok performed the usual general staff functions, including planning and directing operations of the combat elements. The logistics support group provided engineering, communications, ordnance, transportation, quartermaster, and medical services support. The education group coordinated and supervised all air force training programs. The special service group was responsible for the welfare of air force personnel and coordinated the activities of Thai civil aviation with those of the air force.

The operational units of the air force were organized into two functional elements: a tactical air command structured and equipped for conventional warfare and an aerial security force trained and geared for counterinsurgency and other internal security missions. In 1987 the tactical air command had a combat force of one squadron committed to forward ground attack, two squadrons of fighter-interceptors also used for armed reconnaissance, a separate reconnaissance squadron that also served in a training role, three transport squadrons, one utility squadron, two helicopter squadrons, and one training squadron.

By the late 1990s the RTAF Air Power was composed of four regional Air Divisions and a Flying Training School. The first Air Division (AD) has its air bases in Bangkok area, the second Air Division located in the eastern part of Thailand, the third Air Division is in the central and northern-provinces and the fourth Air Division has its bases in the long stretch of the sourthern provinces. The security force consisted of seven counterinsurgency squadrons, equipped with helicopter gunships, and other light aircraft suitable for counterinsurgency operations. Airfield security was provided by four battalions of troops trained in perimeter defense tactics.

One problem for the RTAF (and the Thai armed forces in general) is the wide range of aircraft in its inventory, which creates problems of maintenance and logistics support. Like the other branches of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, the RTAF continued to modernize its force. Considered by most analysts, the most professional of the three services, the RTAF's pilots are well trained and competent.

The American withdrawal had quickly revealed to the Thai Supreme Command the inadequacy of its air force in the event of a conventional war in Southeast Asia. Accordingly, in the 1980s the government allotted large amounts of money for the purchase of modern aircraft and spare parts. Thirty-eight F-5E and F-5F fighter-bombers purchased from the Northrop Corporation formed the nucleus of the air force's defense and tactical firepower. The F-5Es were accompanied by training teams of American civilian and military technicians, who worked with members of the Thai air force. In addition to the F-5E and F-5F fighter-bombers, OV-10C aircraft, transports, and helicopters were added to the air force equipment inventory. Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) contracted to upgrade the RTAF's F-5 fighters. These upgrades include a new fire-control radar and heads-up display. Reportedly, 16 of the planes would be equipped with new air-to-air weapons systems. Thai sources report the first two aircraft had been completed initially, with the remainder following by 2011.

The RTAF also purchased 25 used Dassault/Dornier AlphaJets from Germany to boost its ground attack capability. Despite their age of more than 20 years, government officials consider the AlphaJets a good buy and they will replace the ageing OV-10C Broncos, which were due for decommission in 2004. However, after a crash of an Alpha jet, the RTAF decided to spend 400 million Baht replacing the ejection seats. Outgoing RTAF Commander-in-Chief ACM Pong Maneesilp said the cost of the 48 British-made replacement seats was about 100 million Baht cheaper than competing quotes.

The RTAF announced plans to buy six more C-130 transport planes to enhance peacekeeping efforts and to deliver Thai fruit exports. RTAF Chief ACM Kongsak Watana said the planes were needed to put into effect Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's policy to use military aircraft to deliver fruit overseas because the air force only had 12 C-130 aircraft.

In October 2007 the Royal Thai Air Force became the latest head-of-state customer to fly in a Sikorsky S-92 VIP helicopter, as Sikorsky Aircraft today announced the sale of three of the VIP aircraft to transport the Thai royal family. Sikorsky Aircraft is a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp. The contract was signed by Air Chief Marshal Paisal Sitabutr and Sikorsky representatives, marking the company's first sale to the Royal Thai Air Force. All three aircraft were scheduled to be delivered in 2010.

In 1985 the United States Congress authorized the sale of the F-16 fighter to Thailand. A total of twelve of these aircraft were scheduled for delivery in 1988. With the addition of its third squadron of F-16 fighters, the RTAF is considered the third strongest air force in the region, after Singapore and Malaysia. The RTAF over the past decade has significantly improved its frontline fighter capability through acquisitions or upgrades and is now looking to procure transport aircraft, air defense systems and airborne early warning and command aircraft. A second order of five refurbished Lockheed Martin F-16A fighters, due under the Peace Naresuan IV program, arrived at the Korat Air Base in October 2003. The first five of the 15 F-16As were delivered in August 2003 as part of the country's continuing efforts to modernize its air force. The remaining six aircraft on order (including one two-seat F-16B) will be delivered early in 2004. These deliveries mark the activation of the third F-16 squadron for the RTAF, which received 36 new F-16A/Bs delivered between 1988-1996.

The F-16 Fighting Falcons filled the gap in air defense left by the cancellation of the $390-million F/A-18 contract (due to economic difficulties) and also allowed the RTAF to keep pace with air power trends in the region. Singapore and Malaysia have the latest F-16Ds, F/A-18C/Ds and MiG-29N; in addition, neighboring Myanmar has procured some MiG-29 Fulcrum interceptors. This will provide a third squadron of F-16s at a significantly lower price than the cancelled F-18 purchase. This squadron will be based at Korat as part of Wing 1. Recently, this past Spring (03), the RTAF participated in the RED FLAG exercise at Nellis and Luke Air Force Bases, utilizing Wing 1 pilots from Korat who traveled to Luke AFB, Arizona and flew the same F-16 's, which had recently been refurbished and have now been delivered to The RTAF and will be used to equip the RTAF's 3rd Squadron of F-16s.

The Thai and U.S. governments signed a letter of agreement on the sale of Raytheon AIM-120B Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) to Thailand to equip its F-16 fighters in July 2001. However, until a threat warrants their shipment to Thailand the missiles are currently being kept in the U.S. It has been reported by Raytheon sources, that in the wake of September 11, the Bush administration has been trying to help allies better protect themselves and this could lead to the delivery of restricted technology such as AMRAAM to Thailand.

On September 29, 2010 the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Thailand of a three-phased program to upgrade 18 F-16A/B Block 15 aircraft with the Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) and associated parts, equipment, and logistical support for a complete package worth approximately $700 million. The Government of Thailand has requested a possible sale of a three-phased program to upgrade 18 F-16A/B Block 15 aircraft with the Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU). Each phase will upgrade six aircraft over a three-year period, with each phase overlapping by one year. The MLU with Modular Mission Computer includes APG-68(V)9 Radar, APX-113 Combined Interrogator and Transponder, ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management System, ALE-47 Countermeasures Dispenser System, spare and repair parts, tools and support equipment, publications and technical data, personnel training and training equipment, U.S. Government and contractor engineering and technical support services, and other related elements of logistics support.

The Royal Thai Air Force procured an integrated air defence system with Gripen C/D, the ERIEYE airborne early warning system and a Command and Control C2 system including data link communication. In combination with bilateral Co-operation mainly focused on technology transfer, this will provide Thailand with the foundation for an advanced network based defence system.

In 2008, Thailand ordered a complete aircraft and command and control system from the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) in a Government to Government deal. The order includes a first batch of six Gripen C/D with associated equipment and service, one Saab 340 aircraft equipped with Erieye radar (AEW), a Saab 340 for transport and training plus an integrated command and control system with data links. A further batch of six Gripen C fighters and another Saab 340 Erieye AEW was ordered in 2010. Deliveries of the second RTAF order would be completed in 2013.

The first Thai Gripen aircraft made its maiden flight on 16 September 2009 and Thai pilots, technicians and aviation mechanics responsible for maintenance and support of the aircraft started their training at the Armed Force Technical School (Air Force) in Halmstad and at F 7 Såtenäs. Ten technicians have been trained in Sweden for a year and graduated in June 2011. The first part of the course was conducted at the Armed Forces Technical School (Air Force) in Halmstad. There, the basic technical knowledge of aircraft and its various subsystems. The second part of the training was carried out at F 7 Wing at Såtenäs, Sweden. Then it was all about hands-on training in how aircraft should be handled in the daily service, with preparation and maintenance work.

The Royal Thai Air Force received six of the latest version Gripen C/D multirole fighter aircraft at the beginning of 2011. One ERIEYE Airborne Early Warning radar system aboard a Saab 340 aircraft and one additional Saab 340 aircraft will be delivered in December 2010. One Command and Control C2 system including equipment for three ground based Radio sites were delivered in March 2011. During a ceremony on July 8, 2011 the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) officially declared its new air defence system consisting of the Gripen fighter and Saab 340 Erieye AEW operational. The ceremony took place at the Wing 7 base in Surat Thani.


Aviation in Thailand came into being during the reign of King Rama VI. On February 6, 1911, Mr.Charles Van Den Born, a Belgian pilot made the first flight demostration of the biplane "Henry Farman IV" at Sra Pathum Racecourse. Field Marshal His Royal Highness Prince Nakhon Jaisri Suradej, the Minister of War, and Field Marshal His Royal Highness Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath, Army Chief of Staff, realized the importance of military aviation in France and also confirmed the necessity for Thailand to have the airplane as a military tool. The Aviation Unit was then established in the Army at Sra Pathum Airfield and three Army officers were selected to attend aviation course in France.

While they were in training, the Ministry of War ordered three Breguet biplanes and four Nieuport monoplanes from France. Later, Chao Phraya Apai Bhubet (Chum Aphaivong) donated a fourth Breguet to the Ministry of War, bringing the number to eight aircraft. The test flight was made in France by the first three Thai pilots and the aircraft were shipped to Thailand. After the three officers graduated and returned to Thailand on November 2, 1913, the Ministry of War set up the Aviation Section (Army Aviation Unit) in December of the same year, under the command of General Prince Purachatra Jayakara, Inspector General. The foundation in aviation both in flying training and aeronautical engineering was laid by these three officers.

As the aviation developped, Sra Pathum Airfield was deemed too small and inconvenient. The Army Aviation Unit was decided to relocate from a small and swampy Sra Pathum Airfield to higher ground at Don Muang. Thus, in early 1915, the Army supply Department began construction of hangars, airfields and housing as well as all necessary facilities. After completion, all these facilities were transfered to Lieutenant Colonel Phraya Chalerm Arkas for use as the new home of the Aviation Unit. The relocation of the Aviation Unit was completed and resumed operations on March 17, 1915. By the order of the Ministry of War dated March 27, 1915, the Aviation Unit was upgraded to the Army Air Corps.

In the early period of the Great War, His Majesty King Vajiravudh wished to remain neutral. However, after a thorough considerations of the national interests, he then decided to send an expeditionary force to join with the Allied Forces on July 22, 1917. The expeditionary force headed by Major Thayanpikart (Thip Ketudat) composed of 1,250 men from the Army Air Corps and Transport Corps in which the Army four hundred were from the Army Air Corps. At last the Allied Forces won the war on November 11, 1918 and the Peace Treaty was then signed. After the war, procurement of approximately 15 aircraft such as the new Nieuports (23 m2, 18 m2, 15 m2, 13 m2), Spad and Breguet 24 was made to lay down a strong foundation for the Royal Thai Air Force.

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