Royal Thai Armed Forces

Royal Thai Armed Forces
Royal Thai Armed Forces
Emblem of the Ministry of Defence of Thailand.svg
Emblem of the Ministry of Defence of Thailand
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 of the Armed Forces H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Minister of Defence General Yuthasak Sasiprapha
Chief of Defence Forces General Thanasak Patimaprakorn
Military age 21-49
Conscription 21 years of age
Available for
military service
14,903,855 males, age 15–49 (2005 est.),
15,265,854 females, age 15–49 (2005 est.)
Fit for
military service
10,396,032 males, age 15–49 (2005 est.),
11,487,690 females, age 15–49 (2005 est.)
Reaching military
age annually
526,276 males (2005 est.),
514,396 females (2005 est.)
Active personnel 305,860
Reserve personnel 245,000
Budget FY 2009-10 - ranked 5 st
USD 51 billion
Percent of GDP 1.8 (2005 est.)
Foreign suppliers  United States
 South Africa
 United Kingdom
Related articles
History Military history of Thailand
Ranks Military ranks of Thailand

The Royal Thai Armed Forces (Thai: กองทัพไทย: Kongthap 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 in order to thwart any western threat and any attempts at colonialization. By 1887 during the next reign, 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.[1] In fact the history of the Kings of Siam is teeming with tales of military conquest and power.[2] 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 2006.

Today the Royal Thai Armed Forces comprises about 858,000 personnel. The Head of the Thai Armed Forces (จอมทัพไทย: Chomthap Thai) is His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX),[3] however this position is only nominal. The Armed Forces is 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.[4] In fact, however, the Thai military is a power unto itself, under direction of elites who control action and thought in the country.

According to the Constitution of the Kingdom, serving in the Armed Forces is a duty of all Thai citizens.[5] 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 fulltime service, while volunteers are subjected to eighteen months service, depending on their education.

The Royal Thai Armed Forces Day is celebrated on January 18 to commemorate the victory of King Naresuan the Great in battle against the Vice-King 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 is also charged with the defence of the aristocracy and the Monarchy of Thailand against all threats both foreign and domestic.[6]

Apart from these roles, the Armed Forces also have responsibilities to ensure public order and participating in social development programs by aiding the civilian government. The Armed Forces is also charged with assisting victims of national disasters and drug control.

In recent years the Royal Thai Armed Forces has 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.[7] And participating in the Multinational force in Iraq and the mission there; providing 423 personnel from 2003 to 2004.[8]



The Royal Thai Armed Forces was 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 was in December 1941 when the Empire of Japan invaded then occupied the country, and in the 1980s with the Vietnamese incursions into Thailand that led to several battles with the Thai military. Operations on foreign territory were either territorial wars or conflicts mandated by the United Nations.

  • Franco-Siamese War (1893)
    With the rapid expansion of the French Empire into Indochina, conflicts occurred between the two nations. Conflict became inevitable when a French mission, to peacefully bring Laos under French rule: led by Auguste Pavie to King Chulalongkorn ended in failure. The French invaded Siam from the northeast and sent two gunboats to Bangkok (Paknam Incident). Siam eventually conceded to the French ultimatum and ceded Laos to French control.[9]
The Siamese Expeditionary Force in Paris, 1919.
  • Franco-Thai War (1940–1941)
    Perhaps modern Thailand’s only war of aggression, began in October 1940. When the country under the fascist rule of Prime Minister Pleak Phibulsonggram decided to invade a weakened France, under the Vichy regime (after the Nazi occupation of Paris) to return lost lands and settle disputed territories. This war also supported Phibul’s program of Thai nationalism.[12] The war ended indecisively. Disputed territories in French Indochina ceded to Thailand.
  • World War II (1941–1945)
    In order to attack British India and Malaya the Japanese Empire needed the use of Thai military bases. By playing the British Empire against Japan Prime Minister Phibulsonggram was able to retain a façade of neutrality. This ended in the early hours of 8 December 1941 when Japan unilaterally invaded Thailand in nine points to the east and south of the country; resistance to the invasion was minimal. By 07:30 am, Phibul ordered the end to all hostilities and Thailand promptly signed an armistice with Japan allowing the Empire to move its troops through Thai territory. From then on Thailand became part of the Axis. An active and foreign assisted underground resistance movement in the Free Thai was largely successful and helped Thailand to rehabilitate after the war and treated as a friendly rather than an enemy nation.[13][14]
  • Korean War (1950–1953)
    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 1 air transport unit to the UN command structure. The contingent suffered heavy casualties including 129 dead. The unit returned to Thailand by 1955.[15]
Thai soldiers boarding a USAF aircraft, during the Vietnam War.
  • Vietnam War (1954–1975)
    Due to its close proximity with Thailand, developments within Vietnam was closely monitored by Bangkok. However Thai involvement did not became official until the total involvement of the United States in 1963. Thailand allowed the use of their territories as air bases and troop bases for U.S. forces. Eventually contributing many men and resources. The Thai Armed Forces suffered about 1,351 deaths. Thailand was however more involved with the Secret War and covert operations in Laos from 1964 to 1972. However by 1975 relations between Bangkok and Washington has soured, eventually all U.S. military personnel and bases were forced to withdraw and Thai involvement in the conflict came to an end.
  • Communist Insurgency (1976-1980s)
    The Communist victory in Vietnam emboldened the Communist movement within Thailand which has been in existence since the 1920s. After the Thammasat University massacre in 1976 and the rightwing and repressive policies of Tanin Kraivixien. Sympathies for the movement increased, by the late seventies it is estimated that the movement has about 12,000 armed insurgents,[16] mostly based in the northeast along the Laotian-Khmer border. By the 1980s all insurgent activities were defeated. In 1982 Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda issued a general amnesty for all Communist insurgents.
  • Vietnamese border raids (1979–1988)
    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 threat towards Bangkok, as it could no longer rely on Cambodia to act as a buffer state. Small border raids and conflicts began to occur between the two countries, however full and official conflict was never declared.
  • Thai–Laotian Border War (1987–1988)
    The war was a small conflict over the territories surrounding three villages between the Sainyabuli Province in Laos and Phitsanulok Province in Thailand. The war ended with a Laotian victory, and return to status quo ante bellum. No settlement was made the two nations suffered a combined casualty of about 1,000.[17]
Thai and U.S. military training together during COBRA Gold 2001.
  • Iraq War (2003–2004)
    After the successful U.S. invasion of Iraq, Thailand contributed 423 troops in August 2003 to nation building and medical assistance in post-Sadam Iraq.[18] The forces mostly from the Royal Thai Army was attacked in the 2003 Karbala bombings, killing 2 Thai soldiers and wounding 5 others.[19] The Thai mission in Iraq was considered successful and the forces withdrew in August 2004. This mission is considered the main reason the United States decided to designate Thailand as a Major non-NATO ally in 2003.[20]
  • Southern Insurgency (2004–ongoing)
    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. The Insurgency intensified in 2004, when terrorist attacks on ethnic Thai civilians from the insurgents escalated.[21] The Royal Thai Armed Forces in turn responded with heavy armed tactics.[22] The casualties currently stands at 155 Thai military personnel killed against 1,600 insurgents killed and about 1,500 captured, over the backdrop of about 2,729 civilian casualties.[23] Currently there is a plan by the Royal Thai Government to hand over responsibility of the conflict to a civilian body, a move the military does not favour.[24]
  • Cambodian–Thai border stand-off (2008-ongoing)

Weapons and equipment

Equipment[25] Quantity In Service Being delivered
High quality main battle tanks 381 381 200
Medium and low quality tanks 460 460 0
APCs, IFVs, ARVs, LCVs 1233 1233 181
Self-propelled artillery 1072 1072 6
Combat warplanes 171+AV8 168 12
Transport warplanes 114 114 0
Training warplanes 56 55 0
Military helicopters 282 282 12
aircraft carrier batteries 1 1 0
Warships 17 17 2 LPD
Fast Attack Craft-Missile (FAC-M)s 6 6 0
submarine 4 0 6
Patrol boats 127 127 0

Uniforms, Ranks, and Insignia[26]

To build institutional solidarity and esprit de corps, each Thai service component developed its own distinctive uniforms, ranking system, and insignia. Many Thai military uniforms reflected historical foreign influences. For example, most of the distinctive service uniforms were patterned on those of the United States, but lower ranking enlisted navy personnel wore 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 honor for ceremonial occasions.

The rank structures of the three armed services were similar to those of the respective branches of the United States Armed Forces, although the Thai system had fewer NCO and warrant officer designations. The King, as head of state and constitutional head of the armed forces, personally granted all commissions for members of the officer corps. Appointments to NCO ranks were authorized by the minister of defense. In theory, the authority and responsibilities of officers of various ranks corresponded to those of their American 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 were often held by officers of higher rank than would have been the case in the United States or other Western military establishments.

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

Formal honors and symbols of merit occupied an important place in the Thai military tradition, and service personnel received and wore awards and decorations with pride. The government granted numerous awards, and outstanding acts of heroism, courage, and meritorious service received prompt recognition.


See also

External links


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

  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Chapter 2 of the 2007 Constitution of Thailand
  4. ^
  5. ^ Chapter 4 of the 2007 Constitution of Thailand
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ U.S. Central Command
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ [The Institute for National Security Studies", chapter Israel, 2008] March 23, 2008.
  26. ^

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