Royal Thai Armed Forces

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Royal Thai Armed Forces
Emblem of the Royal Thai Armed Forces HQ.svg
Founded 1852
Service branches Royal Thai Army Flag.svg Royal Thai Army
Royal Thai Navy Flag.svg Royal Thai Navy
Royal Thai Air Force Flag.svg Royal Thai Air Force
Commander-in-Chief King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Minister of Defence General Prawit Wongsuwan
Chief of Defence Forces General Sommai Kaotira
Military age 21–49
Conscription 21 years of age
Reaching military
age annually
(1,043,204 (2013) [1])
Active personnel 306,000
Reserve personnel 245,000
Budget FY 2014 – ranked 35th
USD 5.7 billion[2]
Percent of GDP 1.5% (2012 est.)
Domestic suppliers Thai Aviation Industry
Chaiseri Metal & Rubber
Defense Technology Institute
Avia Satcom
Bangkok Dock
G-Force Composite
Italthai Marine
Marsun Shipbuilding
Military Explosives Factory
Naval Aircraft Experimental
Mahidol Adulyadej Naval Dockyard
Thai Rung Union Car
Foreign suppliers  United States
 Czech Republic
 South Africa
 South Korea
 United Kingdom
Annual imports  Singapore
Related articles
History Military history of Thailand
Ranks Military ranks of Thailand

The Royal Thai Armed Forces (Thai: กองทัพไทย; rtgsKong Thap Thai) is the name of the military of the Kingdom of Thailand. It consists of the following branches:

Created in 1852, the Royal Thai Armed Forces came into existence as permanent force at the behest of King Mongkut, who needed a European trained military force to thwart any western threat and any attempts at colonialisation. By 1887, during the next reign of King Chulalongkorn, a permanent military command in the Kalahom Department was established. However the office of Kalahom and the military of Siam had existed since the days of the Sukhothai Kingdom in the 13th Century.[3] In fact the history of the Kings of Siam is teeming with tales of military conquest and power.[4] However, since 1932, when the military, with the help of civilians, decided to overthrow the system of absolute monarchy and instead created a constitutional system, the military has dominated and been in control of Thai politics, providing it with many Prime Ministers and carrying out many Coup d'états, the most recent being in 2014.

As of 2013, the Royal Thai Armed Forces had 306,000 active duty personnel.[5] The Thai military has more than 1,750 flag officers (generals and admirals), a bloated number for a military of its size.[6] By comparison, the US military as of April 2011 had 964 flag officers for a force several times the size of Thailand's.[7] On 2 May 2015 1,043 new flag officers of all three services promoted in 2014-2015 took the oath of allegiance.[8] It is not clear how many retired during the same period. The Head of the Thai Armed Forces (จอมทัพไทย; rtgsChom Thap Thai) is King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX),[9] however this position is only nominal. The armed forces are ostensibly managed by the Ministry of Defense of Thailand, which is headed by the minister of defence (a member of the Cabinet of Thailand) and commanded by the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, which in turn is headed by the Chief of Defence Forces of Thailand.[10]

According to the Constitution of the Kingdom, serving in the armed forces is a duty of all Thai citizens.[11] However, only males over the age of 21 who have not gone through reserve training are subjected to a random draft. Those chosen randomly are subjected to twenty-four months full-time service, while volunteers are subjected to eighteen months service, depending on their education.

The Royal Thai Armed Forces Day is celebrated on 18 January to commemorate the victory of King Naresuan the Great in battle against the Crown Prince of Burma in 1593.


The Royal Thai Armed Forces main role is the protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Thailand. The armed forces are also charged with the defence of the monarchy of Thailand against all threats both foreign and domestic.[12]

Apart from these roles, the armed forces also have responsibilities ensuring public order and participating in social development programs by aiding the civilian government. The armed forces are also charged with assisting victims of national disasters and drug control.

In recent years the Royal Thai Armed Forces have begun increasing its role on the international stage by providing peacekeeping forces to the United Nations (UN), in the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET), from 1999 to 2002.[13] and participating in the multinational force in Iraq, contributing 423 personnel from 2003 to 2004.[14]



The Royal Thai Armed Forces were involved in many conflicts throughout its history, including global, regional and internal conflicts. However, most these were within Southeast Asia. The only two foreign incursions into Thai territory were in December 1941, when the Empire of Japan invaded and then occupied the country, and in the 1980s with Vietnamese incursions into Thailand that led to several battles with the Thai Army. Operations on foreign territory were either territorial wars (such as the Laos Civil War) or conflicts mandated by the United Nations.

Franco-Siamese War (1893)[edit]

With the rapid expansion of the French Empire into Indochina, conflicts necessarily occurred. War became inevitable when a French mission led by Auguste Pavie to King Chulalongkorn to try to bring Laos under French rule ended in failure. The French colonialists invaded Siam from the northeast and sent two warships to fight their way past the river forts and train their guns on the Grand Palace in Bangkok (the Paknam Incident). They also declared a blockade of Bangkok, which almost brought them into conflict with the British Navy. Siam was forced to accept the French ultimatum and surrendered Laos to France, also allowing French troops to occupy the Thai province of Chantaburi for several decades.[15]

The Siamese Expeditionary Force in Paris, 1919.

World War I (1917–1918)[edit]

King Vajiravudh on 22 July 1917 decided to declare war on the Central Powers and joined the Entente Powers on the Western Front. He sent a volunteer corps, the Siamese Expeditionary Force, composed of 1,233 modern-equipped and trained men commanded by Field Marshal Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath. The force included air and medical personnel, the medical units actually seeing combat. Siam became the only independent Asian nation with forces in Europe during the Great War. Although Siam’s participation militarily was minimal, it enabled the revision or complete cancellation of unequal treaties with the United States, France, and the British Empire.[16] The Expeditionary Force was given the honour of marching in the victory parade under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.[17] Nineteen Siamese soldiers died during the conflict, and their ashes are contained in the World War I monument at the north end of Bangkok's Pramane Grounds.

Franco-Thai War (1940–1941)[edit]

The Franco-Thai War began in October 1940, when the country under the rule of Field Marshal Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram followed up border clashes by invading a French Indo-China, under the Vichy regime (after the Nazi occupation of Paris) to regain lost land and settle territorial disputes. The war also bolstered Phibun’s program of promoting Thai nationalism.[18] The war ended indecisively, with Thai victories on land and a naval defeat at sea. However, the disputed territories in French Indochina were ceded to Thailand.

World War II (1942–1945)[edit]

To attack British India, British Burma and Malaya, the Japanese Empire needed to use bases in Thailand. By playing the British Empire against Japan, Prime Minister Phibunsongkhram was able to maintain a degree of neutrality for some time. However, this ended in the early hours of 8 December 1941, when Japan launched a surprise attack of Thailand at nine places along the coastline and from French Indo-China. The Thai forces resisted, but were soon being overwhelmed. By 07:30 am, a frightened Phibun ordered an end to hostilities, though resistance continued for another day until all units could be notified. Phibun signed an armistice with Japan that allowed the Empire to move its troops through Thai territory. After that Thailand became part of the Axis when Phibun declared war on the United Kingdom and the United States. (The Thai ambassador to Washington refused to deliver the declaration and the United States continued to consider Thailand as an occupied country.) An active and foreign assisted underground resistance movement, the Free Thai, was largely successful and helped Thailand to rehabilitate after the war and be treated as a friendly rather than an enemy nation.[19][20]

Korean War (1950–1953)[edit]

During the United Nations-mandated conflict in the Korean peninsula, Thailand provided the 21st Regiment of about 1,294 men. The Kingdom also provided 4 naval vessels and an air transport unit to the UN command structure. The contingent was actively engaged and suffered heavy casualties, including 139 dead. They returned to Thailand in 1955.[21]

Thai soldiers boarding a USAF aircraft, during the Vietnam War.

Vietnam War (1955–1975)[edit]

Due to its close proximity with Thailand, Vietnam's conflict was closely monitored by Bangkok. Thai involvement did not become official until the total involvement of the United States in 1963. Thailand allowed the United States Air Force in Thailand to use air bases and naval bases for US forces. Eventually contributing infantry units and other resources. The Thai armed forces suffered 1,351 deaths. However, Thailand was more involved with the Secret War and covert operations in Laos from 1964 to 1972. By 1975 relations between Bangkok and Washington had soured, and in 1977 President James Earl Carter withdrew all US military personnel and the bases were closed.

Communist Insurgency (1976-1980s)[edit]

The Communist victory in Vietnam in 1975 emboldened the Communist movement within Thailand, which has been in existence since the 1920s. After the Thammasat University massacre of leftist student demonstrators in 1976 and the repressive policies of rightwing Prime Minister Tanin Kraivixien, sympathies for the movement increased. By the late seventies it is estimated that the movement had as many as 12,000 armed insurgents,[22] mostly based in the northeast along the Laotian border. By the 1980s, however, all insurgent activities had been defeated. In 1982 Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda issued a general amnesty for all Communist former insurgents.

Vietnamese border raids (1979–1988)[edit]

With the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978, Communist Vietnam had a combined force of about 300,000 in Laos and Cambodia. This posed a massive potential threat to the Thais, as they could no longer rely on Cambodia to act as a buffer state. Small encounters occasionally took place when Vietnamese forces crossed into Thailand in pursuit of fleeing Khmer Rouge troops. However, a full and official conflict was never declared, as neither country wanted it.

Thai–Laotian Border War (1987–1988)[edit]

This was a small conflict over mountainous territory including three disputed villages on the border between the Sainyabuli Province in Laos and Phitsanulok Province in Thailand, whose ownership had been left unclear by the map drawn by the French some 80 years earlier. Caused by then Army commander Chavalit Yongchaiydht against the wishes of the government, the war ended with a virtual Laos' surrender[citation needed] and return to status quo ante bellum. The two nations suffered combined casualties of about 1,000.[23]

East Timor (1999–2002)[edit]

After the East Timor Crisis, Thailand with 28 other nations provided troops for the International Force for East Timor or INTERFET. Thailand also provided the Force Commander, Lieutenant General Winai Phattiyakul.[13] The force was based in Dili and lasted from 25 October 1999 to 20 May 2002.

Thai and US military training together during Cobra Gold 2001.

Iraq War (2003–2004)[edit]

After the successful US invasion of Iraq, Thailand contributed 423 non-combat troops in August 2003 to nation building and medical assistance in post-Saddam Iraq.[24] Troops of the Royal Thai Army were attacked in the 2003 Karbala bombings, which killed 2 soldiers and wounded 5 others.[25] However, the Thai mission in Iraq was considered successful, and Thailand withdrew its forces in August 2004. The mission is considered the main reason the United States decided to designate Thailand as a Major non-NATO ally in 2003.[14]

Southern insurgency (2004–ongoing)[edit]

The ongoing Southern insurgency began long before 2004, waged by the ethnic Malays and Islamic rebels in the three southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, but it had always been small scale. The insurgency intensified in 2004, when terrorist attacks were extended to ethnic Thai civilians in the provinces.[26] The Royal Thai Armed Forces in turn responded with heavy armed tactics.[27] By the end of 2012 the conflict had claimed 3,380 lives, including 2,316 civilians, 372 soldiers, 278 police, 250 suspected insurgents, 157 education officials and seven Buddhist monks. The insurgents have extended their attacks to ethnic Malay Thai Muslims who do not support them.[28]

Cambodian–Thai border stand-off (2008-2011)[edit]

Sudan (2010-2011)[edit]

Afghanistan (2012)[edit]

Current developments[edit]

Thai and US Army Soldiers practice tactical manoeuvres during exercise Cobra Gold 2006 in Lop Buri.
Saab JAS 39 Gripen of the Royal Thai Air Force.

Royal Thai Navy[edit]

Main article: Royal Thai Navy

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.

Weapons and equipment[edit]

Equipment[29] Quantity In Service On Order
Main Battle Tank and Light Tank 788 788 200
APCs, IFVs, ARVs, LCVs 1233 1233 217+6
Self-propelled artillery 1072 1072 60
Combat warplanes 171+AV8 168 12
Transport warplanes 114 114 0
Training warplanes 56 55 0
Military helicopters 282 282 25
aircraft carrier batteries 1 1 0
Warships 17 17 2 LPD
Fast Attack Craft-Missile (FAC-M)s 6 6 6
submarine 0 0 0
Patrol boats 127 127 2

Uniforms, ranks, insignia[edit]

To build institutional solidarity and esprit de corps, each Thai service component has developed its own distinctive uniforms, ranking system, and insignia.[30] Many Thai military uniforms reflect historical foreign influences. For example, most of the distinctive service uniforms were patterned on those of the US, but lower ranking enlisted navy personnel wear uniforms resembling those of their French counterparts. The early influence of British advisers to the Thai royal court and the historical role of the military in royal pomp and ceremony contributed to the splendor of formal dress uniforms worn by high-ranking officers and guards of honour on ceremonial occasions.

The 1st Artillery Battalion, King's Guard in the procession of Princess Galyani Vadhana's royal urn

The rank structures of the three armed services are similar to those of the respective branches of the US Armed Forces, although the Thai system has fewer NCO and warrant officer designations. The king, as head of state and constitutional head of the armed forces, commissions all officers. Appointments to NCO ranks are authorised by the minister of defence. In theory, the authority and responsibilities of officers of various ranks correspond to those of their US counterparts. However, because of a perennial surplus of senior officers—in 1987 there were some 600 generals and admirals in a total force of about 273,000—Thai staff positions are often held by officers of higher rank than would be the case in the US or other Western military establishments.

Thai military personnel are highly conscious of rank distinctions and of the duties, obligations, and benefits they entail. Relationships among officers of different grades and among officers, NCOs, and the enlisted ranks are governed by military tradition in a society where observance of differences in status are highly formalised. The social distance between officers and NCOs is widened by the fact that officers usually are college or military academy graduates, while most NCOs have not gone beyond secondary school. There is a wider gap between officers and conscripts, most of whom have even less formal education, service experience, or specialised training.

Formal honours and symbols of merit occupy an important place in Thai military tradition. The government grants numerous awards, and outstanding acts of heroism, courage, and meritorious service receive prompt recognition.


See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.

  1. ^ "Manpower Reaching Military Age Annually". Global Firepower. Global Firepower. Retrieved 16 October 2014. 
  2. ^ "Thailand Raises Defence Budget 5%". 17 July 2014. 
  3. ^ The Royal Thai Army. Brief History.
  4. ^ Military History. Retrieved on 18 January 2012.
  5. ^ "Active Military Manpower by Country". Global Firepower. Global Firepower. Retrieved 16 October 2014. 
  6. ^ Cole, John; Sciacchitano, Steve (1 October 2013). "Thai army: new line-up, same fault-lines". Asia Times. Retrieved 4 April 2015. 
  7. ^ "How bad is our bloat of generals? How does it compare with other armies?". The Fabius Maximus website. Retrieved 27 June 2015. 
  8. ^ "New generals take oath before the Crown Prince". National News Bureau of Thailand (NNT). 3 May 2015. Retrieved 3 May 2015. 
  9. ^ Chapter 2 of the 2007 Constitution of Thailand. Retrieved on 18 January 2012.
  10. ^ Ministry of Defense. Retrieved on 18 January 2012.
  11. ^ Chapter 4 of the 2007 Constitution of Thailand
  12. ^ Vision.
  13. ^ a b UNTAET. Retrieved on 18 January 2012.
  14. ^ a b Thailand.
  15. ^ Legacy of the Paknam clash. 2 November 2005
  16. ^ Feature Articles – Thailand and the First World War. First World (22 August 2009). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  17. ^ 90th Anniversary of World War I. This Is The History of Siamese Volunteer Crop. « Thai Military Information Blog. (11 November 2008). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  18. ^ Nation-building and the Pursuit of Nationalism under Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram
  19. ^ Thailand. (8 December 1941). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  20. ^ Free Thai. Retrieved on 18 January 2012.
  21. ^ Factsheet.
  22. ^ Thailand Communist Insurgency 1959–Present. Retrieved on 18 January 2012.
  23. ^ Thailand-Laos Border War 1987–1988. The History Guy. Retrieved on 18 January 2012.
  24. ^ Thailand to withdraw troops from Iraq if attacked. Asian Tribune (21 April 2004).
  25. ^ Karbala attacks kill 12, wound dozens. CNN (27 December 2003). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  26. ^ Search – Global Edition – The New York Times. International Herald Tribune (29 March 2009). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  27. ^ Thailand's counter-insurgency operations. (19 November 2007). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  28. ^ Data from the (governmental) Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, cited in ISRANews report, 4 January 2013
  29. ^ [The Institute for National Security Studies", chapter Israel, 2008] 23 March 2008.
  30. ^ Thailand. Retrieved on 18 January 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • Osornprasop, Sutayut. "Thailand and the Secret War in Laos", 1960-1974 (in) Albert Lau (ed.), Southeast Asia and the Cold War. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, 2012. ISBN 9780415684507 (hardback).

External links[edit]