The Royal Thai Air Force or RTAF (Thai: กองทัพอากาศไทย, Kong Thab Akat Thai) is the air force of the Kingdom of Thailand. As of 2006, the Commander of the Air Force was Chalit Pookpasuk, who was also a Deputy of the Council for National Security that seized power during the 2006 Thailand coup.
The three officers (Major Luang Sakdi Sanlayawut (Sunee Suwanprateep), Captain Luang Arwut Sikikorn (Long Sinsuk) and First Lieutenant Tip Ketuthat) learned to fly and on 2 November 1913 returned to Thailand with eight aircraft (four Breguets and four Nieuports). They are today regarded as the forefathers of the Royal Thai Air Force. In March of the next year they moved from Sa Pathum airfield to Don Muang.
The Ministry of Defense put the early air force under the control of the Army Engineer Inspector General Department. Prince Purachatra, Commander of the Army Engineers, and his brother Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath were instrumental in the development of the army's Royal Aeronautical Service, a forerunner to the Air Force.
During the French-Thai War, the Thai Air Force scored several air-to-air-victories against the Vichy France Armée de l'Air. After World War II, the Thai Air Force sent three C-47s to support the United Nations in Korean War. The victorious Wings Unit, operating C-47, also joined the US Force in Vietnam War. Along the border, Thai Air Force launched many campaign against the communists, such as Ban Nam Ta Airfield Raid in Laos, and clashes between Thai and Vietnamese troops along the Thai-Cambodian border. When the cold war ended, the Thai Air Force participated in Operation Border Post 9631 along the Thai-Burmese border in 1999, and launched the evacuation of Thais and foreigners during the 2003 Phnom Penh riots in Cambodia.
The headquarters group in Bangkok performs the usual general staff functions, including planning and directing operations of the combat elements.
The logistics support group provides engineering, communications, ordnance, transportation, quartermaster, and medical services support.
The education group coordinates and supervises all air force training programmes.
The special service group is responsible for the welfare of air force personnel and coordinates the activities of Thai civil aviation with those of the air force.
The operational units of the air force are organised 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.
All but one were part of the network of airfields built and used by United States forces until their withdrawal from Thailand in 1976. Consolidating the equipment left by the departing units in accordance with government-to-government agreements, the Thai air force assumed use of the installations at Takhli and Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat).
Maintenance of the facilities at other bases abandoned by the United States proved too costly and exceeded Thai needs. Nonetheless, all runways were still available for training and emergency use.
By 2004 the Royal Thai Air Force had its main base at Don Muang airport, adjacent to Bangkok's International Airport. The RTAF also had large air fields and facilities at Nakon Ratchasima Ubon Ratchathani, and Takhli.
|201 Helicopter Squadron (Royal Guard)||2nd Wing||Bell 412||RTAFB Khok ka thiem|
|203 Helicopter Squadron||2nd Wing||Bell UH-1H||RTAFB Khok ka thiem||SAR detachments at RTAFB Chiang Mai, RTAFB Korat/Nakhon Ratchasima, RTAFB Bangkok, RTAFB udon ,RTAFB ubon, RTAFB surat and RTAFB hat yai|
|102 Fighter Squadron||1st Wing||Lockheed Martin F-16ADF||RTAFB Korat|
|103 Fighter Squadron||1st Wing||Lockheed Martin F-16A/B||RTAFB Korat|
|601 Transport Squadron||6th Wing||Lockheed Martin C-130H/H-30||RTAFB Bangkok|
|602 Royal Flight Squadron (Royal Guard)||6th Wing||Airbus A310, Boeing 737||RTAFB Bangkok|
|603 Transport Squadron||6th Wing||Alenia G.222, BAe 748||RTAFB Bangkok|
|604 Civil Pilot Training Squadron||6th Wing||CT-4A, T-41D||RTAFB Bangkok|
|211 Fighter Squadron||21st Wing||Northrop F-5T Tigres||RTAFB Ubon Ratchathani|
|231 Attack Squadron||23rd Wing||Dornier/Dassault Alpha Jet A||RTAFB Ubon Ratchathani|
|401 Light Attack Squadron||4th Wing||Aero L-39ZA/ART Albatros||RTAFB Takhli|
|402 Elint Squadron||4th Wing||Learjet 35, IAI Arava||RTAFB Takhli|
|403 Fighter Squadron||4th Wing||Lockheed Martin F-16A/B||RTAFB Takhli|
|411 Fighter Squadron||41th Wing||Aero L-39ZA/ART Albatros||RTAFB Chiang Mai|
|461 Transport/Rainmaking Squadron||46th Wing||GAF Nomad, Basler BT-67||RTAFB Phitsanulok|
|701 Fighter Squadron||7th Wing||Northrop F-5B/E/F||RTAFB Surat Thani|
|501 Attack Squadron||5th Wing||AU-23A Peacemaker||RTAFB Prachuap Khiri Khan||The former 531 Sqn was redesignated 501 Sqn on 1st of April 2007|
|904 Aggessor Squadron||-||Northrop F-5E||RTAFB Bangkok||Former unit of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn Mahidon, now an aggressor unit.|
|Tango Squadron||-||-||RTAFB Chiang Mai||Historical aircraft unit, not controlled by the Royal Thai Air Force|
|1st Flying Training Squadron||Flying Training School||Pacific Aerospace PAC CT/4E||RTAFB Kamphang Saen||Primary flight training squadron|
|2nd Flying Training Squadron||Flying Training School||Pilatus PC-9M||RTAFB Kamphang Saen||Basic flight training squadron|
|3rd Flying Training Squadron||Flying Training School||Bell 206B||RTAFB Kamphang Saen||Rotary aviation training squadron|
|Saab JAS 39 Gripen||air superiority fighter/strike fighter/maritime attacker||JAS 39C/D||12 (on order. delivery in 2011)|
|Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon||air superiority/strike fighter||F-16A||29 (plus an additional 2 as spare parts)|
|Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon||air superiority/strike fighter||F-16ADF||15 (with AIM-120)|
|Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon||air superiority/strike fighter/trainer||F-16B||15 (dual-seat trainers)|
|Northrop F-5T Tigris||fighter-bomber||F-5T||~15 (upgraded by Israel, armed with Python 4 missile)|
|Northrop F-5E Tiger II||fighter-bomber||F-5E||~15 (due for replacement)|
|Northrop F-5B Freedom Fighter||fighter-bomber/trainer||F-5B||2 (early model F-5B's used for training purposes)|
|F-5F Tiger II||fighter-bomber/trainer||F-5F||~5 (two-seat training version of Northrop F-5)|
|Aero L-39 Albatros||light attack aircraft / trainer||L-39ZA/ART||36 (Westernized version of the Aero L-39 Albatros, equipped with Israeli avionics)|
|Dassault-Breguet/Dornier Alpha Jet|| ||light attack aircraft/trainer||Dornier Alpha Jet||19 (ex-Luftwaffe)|
|Pilatus AU-23A Peacemaker|| ||light attack aircraft/utility aircraft||AU-23A||~20 (armed version of the Pilatus PC-6)|
|Lockheed C-130 Hercules||tactical transport||C-130H||12 (12 model H/H-30's in service of 601 Sqn)|
|Basler BT-67||tactical transport||BT-67||8 (re-manufactured Douglas DC-3 Dakota's. used for aerial firefighting and cloud seeding. one written in a crash in August 2006. used by the 461 Sqn)|
|GAF Nomad||surveillance and patrol aircraft||Nomad||19 (6 left in service with 461 Sqn)|
|Alenia G.222||tactical transport||G.222||3 (3 additional airframes stored at Don Mueang RTAFB, used by 603 Sqn. Alenia has demonstrated it's latest version of the G.222, the Alenia C-27J recently to the Thai military)|
|Avro 748||short range transport||748||4 (one airframe stricken from fleet after a wheels up landing in 2005, used by 603 Sqn)|
|Boeing 737||narrowbody airliner||B737-2Z6 (B737-200)||1 (for royal flight. stricken from active fleet effective October 1st 2006 and stored at Don Mueang RTAFB)|
|Boeing 737||narrowbody airliner||B737-4Z6 (B737-400)||1 (for royal flight)|
|Boeing 737||narrowbody airliner||B737-8Z6 (B737-800)||1 (for royal flight. delivered on April 19th 2007)|
|Airbus A310|| ||long range transport||A310-300||1 (for royal flight)|
|Airbus A320|| ||narrowbody transport||A-319-115X CJ||1 (for government business. mired in controversy as aircraft was procured for the exclusive use of the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. now used as a spare airplane for the Royal Flight)|
|Saab 340||transport/training||340||1 (on order. delivery in 2010)|
|Learjet 35||patrol aircraft||35A||2 (1 remaining, used by 402 Sqn)|
|Israel Aircraft Industries Arava||patrol aircraft||Arava||3 (at least one airframe stored, used by 402 Sqn)|
|Saab 340||AEW&C||340||2 (on order. delivery in 2010. with Erieye)|
|Pacific Aerospace CT/4||trainer||CT/4||~20 (24 were purchased, at least 3 are known to have crashed)|
|Bell UH-1 Iroquois||utility helicopter/CSAR||UH-1H||20 (soon to be replaced)|
|Sikorsky S-92 Superhawk||utility helicopter||S-92||3 (on order. delivery in 2010. for royal flight)|
|Bell 412|| ||utility helicopter||412SP||6 (for royal flight and VIP transport)|
As it is known in Thailand as RTAF 20th fighter program, RTAF studied three models of the new fighter to replace its aging Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighters. Requirements were for twelve aircraft with an expected delivery date in 2011. Fighters being examined for the purchase were the American Lockheed Martin F-16C/D block 50/52, the Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKIT, and the Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen.
On 16 October 2007, leaked information indicated that a decision had been reached to acquire twelve Gripens. A source said to Reuters that the F16 had been preferred, but American legislation prevents sales to countries whose governments are overthrown. However, this is incorrect as there is no U.S. arms embargo on Thailand, showed by the fact that Thailand has recently awarded a US company a large contract for modernizing its fleet of military transport aircraft.
On a press conference on 17 October, the decision to buy six JAS 39 Gripen (version C/D), with an option for six more, was presented by Air Chief Marshal Chalit Pookpasuk. Twelve JAS 39 Gripen, two Saab 340 Erieye AEW&C, and one Saab 340, training, technology transfer, and a number of RBS-15 anti-ship missiles will be delivered to RTAF in two phases:
On 8 Jan 2008, cabinet approved the budget for the first phase. The deal, worth 19 billion Baht, consists of six JAS 39 Gripen: two single-seat C models and four dual-seat D model along with support, training, and spare parts. The offset includes one Saab 340 Erieye, one Saab 340, Datalink system, and 92 Master-degrees scholarships for Thai students to study in Sweden. The first three aircraft will be delivered in January 2011 and another three in March 2011. Saab 340 and Saab 340 Erieye will be delivered in 2010.