The Head of the Thai Armed Forces (จอมทัพไทย; RTGS: Chom Thap Thai) is King of Thailand, 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.
The Royal Thai Armed Forces main role officially 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, foreign and domestic. 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.
Some critics have contended that, in reality, the Thai armed forces serve two main functions: a) to safeguard ruling class rule from challenges by mass movements to expand the democratic space, and b) to satisfy the self-enrichment goals of the upper echelons of the Thai military.
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. and participating in the multinational force in Iraq, contributing 423 personnel from 2003 to 2004.
As of 2015, the Royal Thai Armed Forces had 357,000 active duty and 375,349 reserve personnel, representing 0.8 percent of Thailand's population of 67 million. This percentage is higher than that of the US, but lower than that of nearby Vietnam.:5 The Thai military has more than 1,750 flag officers (generals and admirals), a bloated number for a military of its size. By comparison, the US military as of April 2011 had 964 flag officers for a force several times the size of Thailand's. On 2 May 2015 1,043 new flag officers of all three services promoted in 2014-2015 took the oath of allegiance. It is not clear how many retired during the same period.
According to the Constitution of the Kingdom, serving in the armed forces is a duty of all Thai citizens. 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. In 2017, 103,097 men will participate in the draft process between 1-12 April. The armed forces need only 76,953 conscripts. More than half of the conscripts will end up as servants to senior officers or clerks in military cooperative shops.
The defence budget nearly tripled from 78.1 billion baht in 2005 to 207 billion baht for FY2016 (1 October 2015 – 30 September 2016), amounting to roughly 1.5 percent of GDP. The budget for FY2017 is 214 billion baht (US$6.1 billion)—including funds for a submarine purchase—a nominal increase of three percent. The proposed budget again represents around 1.5 percent of GDP and eight percent of total government spending for FY2017. The FY2018 defence budget is 220 billion baht, 7.65 percent of the total budget. According to Jane's Defense Budgets, the Royal Thai Army generally receives 50 percent of defense expenditures while the air force and navy receive 22 percent each.:29
The Royal Siamese Armed Forces was the military arm of the Siamese monarchy from the 12th to the 19th centuries. It refers to the military forces of the Sukhothai Kingdom, the Ayutthaya Kingdom, the Thonburi Kingdom and the early Rattanakosin Kingdom in chronological order. The Siamese army was one of the dominant armed forces in Southeast Asia. As Thailand has never been colonized by a European power, the Royal Thai Armed Forces boasts one of the longest and uninterrupted military traditions in Asia.
The army was organized into a small standing army of a few thousand, which defended the capital and the palace, and a much larger conscription-based wartime army. Conscription was based on the "ahmudan" system, which required local chiefs to supply, in times of war, a predetermined quota of men from their jurisdiction on the basis of population. The wartime army also consisted of elephantry, cavalry, artillery, and naval units.
In 1852, the Royal Siamese 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. The office of Kalahom, as a permanent office of war department, was established by King Borommatrailokkanat (1431-1488) in the mid-15th century during the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Siam's history of organized warfare is thus one of Asia's longest and uninterrupted military traditions. However, since 1932, when the military, with the help of civilians, overthrew 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 coups d'état, the most recent being in 2014.
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 three foreign incursions into Thai territory were the Franco-Siamese War, the Japanese invasion of Thailand in December 1941, 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.
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.
King Vajiravudh on 22 July 1917 declared 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. The Expeditionary Force was given the honour of marching in the victory parade under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. 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.
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. 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.
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 on Thailand at nine places along the coastline and from French Indo-China. The greatly outnumbered Thai forces resisted, but were soon being overwhelmed. By 07:30, Phibun ordered an end to hostilities, though resistance continued for at least 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. Impressed by Japan's easy defeat of the British military in Malaya, Phibun formally made Thailand part of the Axis by declaring war on the United Kingdom and the United States, though the Regent refused to sign it in the young king's name. (The Thai ambassador to Washington refused to deliver the declaration, and the United States continued to consider Thailand 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 an occupied nation rather than a defeated enemy.
During the United Nations-mandated conflict in the Korean peninsula, Thailand provided the reinforced 1st Battalion of the 21st Infantry Regiment, Some 65,000 Thais served in Korea during the war. The foot soldiers took part in the 1953 Battle of Pork Chop Hill. During the war the battalion was attached at various times to U.S. 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team and the British 29th Infantry Brigade. The kingdom also provided four naval vessels, the HTMS Bangprakong, Bangpako, Tachin and Prasae, and an air transport unit to the UN command structure. The Thai contingent was actively engaged and suffered heavy casualties, including 139 dead and more than 300 wounded. They remained in South Korea after the cease fire, returning to Thailand in 1955.
Due to its proximity to Thailand, Vietnam's conflicts were closely monitored by Bangkok. Thai involvement did not become official until the total involvement of the United States in support of South Vietnam in 1963. The Thai government then allowed the United States Air Force in Thailand to use its air and naval bases. At the height of the war, almost 50,000 American military personnel were stationed in Thailand, mainly airmen.
In October 1967 a regiment-size Thai unit, the Queen's Cobras, were sent to Camp Bearcat at Bien Hoa, to fight alongside the Americans, Australians, New Zealanders and South Vietnamese. About 40,000 Thai military would serve in South Vietnam, with 351 killed in action and 1,358 wounded. Thai troops earned a reputation for bravery and would serve in Vietnam until 1971, when the men of the Royal Thai Army Expeditionary Division (Black Panthers) returned home.
By 1975 relations between Bangkok and Washington had soured, and the government of Kukrit Pramoj requested the withdrawal of all US military personnel and the closure of all US bases. This was completed by March 1976.
The communist victory in Vietnam in 1975 emboldened the communist movement in Thailand, which had been in existence since the 1920s. After the Thammasat University massacre of leftist student demonstrators in 1976 and the repressive policies of right-wing Prime Minister Tanin Kraivixien, sympathies for the movement increased. By the late-1970s, it is estimated that the movement had as many as 12,000 armed insurgents, mostly based in the northeast along the Laotian border and receiving foreign support. By the 1980s, however, all insurgent activities had been defeated. In 1982 Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda issued a general amnesty for all former communist insurgents.
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.
This was a small conflict over mountainous territory including three disputed villages on the border between 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 Yongchaiyudh against the wishes of the government, the war ended with a stalemate and return to status quo ante bellum. The two nations suffered combined casualties of about 1,000.
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. The force was based in Dili and lasted from 25 October 1999 to 20 May 2002.
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. Troops of the Royal Thai Army were attacked in the 2003 Karbala bombings, which killed two soldiers and wounded five others. However, the Thai mission in Iraq was considered an overall success, 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.
The ongoing southern insurgency had begun in response to Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram's 1944 National Cultural Act, which replaced the use of Malaya in the region's schools with the Thai language and also abolished the local Islamic courts in the three ethnic Malay and Muslim majority border provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat.[better source needed] However, it had alway been on a comparatively small scale. The insurgency intensified in 2001, during the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Terrorist attacks were now extended to the ethnic Thai minority in the provinces. The Royal Thai Armed Forces also went beyond their orders and retaliated with strong armed tactics that only encouraged more violence. 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. Many of the dead were Muslims themselves, but they had been targeted because of their presumed support of the Thai government.
On 29 March 2016, in a move that the Bangkok Post said will "...will inflict serious and long-term damage...", the NCPO, under a Section 44 order (NCPO Order 13/2559) signed by junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha, granted to commissioned officers of the Royal Thai Armed Forces broad police powers to suppress and arrest anyone they suspect of criminal activity without a warrant and detain them secretly at almost any location without charge for up to seven days. Bank accounts can be frozen, and documents and property can be seized. Travel can be banned. Automatic immunity for military personnel has been built into the order, and there is no independent oversight or recourse in the event of abuse. The order came into immediate effect. The net result is that the military will have more power than the police and less oversight.
The government has stated that the purpose of this order is to enable military officers to render their assistance in an effort to "...suppress organized crimes such as extortion, human trafficking, child and labor abuses, gambling, prostitution, illegal tour guide services, price collusion, and firearms. It neither aims to stifle nor intimidate dissenting voices. Defendants in such cases will go through normal judicial process, with police as the main investigator...trial[s] will be conducted in civilian courts, not military ones. Moreover, this order does not deprive the right of the defendants to file complaints against military officers who have abused their power."
The NCPO said that the reason for its latest order is that there are simply not enough police, in spite of the fact that there are about 230,000 officers in the Royal Thai Police force. They make up about 17 percent of all non-military public servants. This amounts to 344 police officers for every for every 100,000 persons in Thailand, more than twice the ratio in Myanmar and the Philippines, one and a half times that of Japan and Indonesia and roughly the same proportion as the United States.
|Equipment||Quantity||In Service||On Order|
|Main Battle Tank and Light Tank||788||788||200|
|APCs, IFVs, ARVs, LCVs||2620||2620||300|
|Fast Attack Craft-Missile (FAC-M)s||6||6||6|
To build institutional solidarity and esprit de corps, each Thai service component has developed its own distinctive uniforms, ranking system, and insignia. 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 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.
|OF-10||OF-9||OF-8||OF-7||OF-6||OF-5||OF-4||OF-3||OF-2||OF-1||OF(D) & Student officer|
|Field Marshal||General||Lieutenant General||Major General||Brigadier||Colonel||Lieutenant Colonel||Major||Captain||Lieutenant||Sub Lieutenant||Cadet Officer
|Admiral of the Fleet||Admiral||Vice Admiral||Rear Admiral||Commodore||Captain||Commander||Lieutenant Commander||Lieutenant||Lieutenant Junior Grade||Sub-Lieutenant||Midshipman
|Marshal of the Air Force||Air Chief Marshal||Air Marshal||Air Vice Marshal||Air Commodore||Group Captain||Wing Commander||Squadron Leader||Flight Lieutenant||Flying Officer||Pilot Officer||Air Cadet|
|No equivalent||No insignia|
Master Sergeant 1st Class
|Master Sergeant 1st Class||Master Sergeant 2nd Class||Master Sergeant 3rd Class||Sergeant||Corporal||Lance Corporal||Private 1st Class||Private
|No equivalent||No equivalent||No insignia|
Chief Petty Officer
|Chief Petty Officer 1st Class||Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class||Chief Petty Officer 3rd Class||Petty Officer 1st Class||Petty Officer 2nd Class||Petty Officer 3rd Class||Seaman
|No equivalent||No equivalent||No insignia|
Flight Sergeant 1st Class
|Flight Sergeant 1st Class||Flight Sergeant 2nd Class||Flight Sergeant 3rd Class||Sergeant||Corporal||Leading Aircraftman||Aircraftman|
Soldiers with riot shields at a barricade on Silom Road and Soi Convent
Royal Thai Special Forces service member clears a building during a mock raid, Cobra Gold, 2011
Thai troops in a riverine exercise with US sailors on the Nakhon Nayok River, Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), 8 June 2013
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