11 April 2009

Shopping Around of The RTAF

19 April 1995

Thailand was the first Asian country to receive the F-16, the procurement being the largest, in financial terms, ever carried out by the RTAF. The fighter was introduced into operational service in 1989 with 103 Sqn, which is still the sole unit to be equipped with the aircraft, although the F-5-equipped 403 Sqn at Ta Khli is expected to become the second RTAF F-16 unit in June.

Bolstering the F-16 air-defence unit are four dual-role Northrop F-5 squadrons. The RTAF has, over the years, acquired a "hotch-potch" of F-5 models, including ten surviving (R)F-5A/Bs. Despite the designation, these aircraft are used in the ground-attack role. Although equipped with cameras, it is not clear if the remaining RF-5As of 231 Sqn are still used for reconnaissance.

The F-5s are regularly flown in air-defence missions over the Gulf of Thailand and over the radar installation on the island of Ko Samui, which controls the air traffic of south Thailand.

The F-5E is also operated, somewhat idiosyncratically, in the Royal Flight by the Crown Prince Watsilalongkon Machidonwho. The Prince flies "missions" with his private F-5E up to four times a week from Don Muang. To accompany the Crown Prince, three F-5Es are on detachment from the front-line squadrons.

The RTAF has announced that it is to sell 12 of its F-5Es to Uruguay, leaving the air force with only a limited operational reserve.

L-39ZA Albatros of the Royal Thai Air Force (photo : Jetphotos)

Alongside the ground attack F-5s, the air force has now introduced the Aero
L-39ZA Albatros into service as both an operational jet trainer and light-strike aircraft. The first of 36 aircraft on order was delivered in 1993.

A second unit was equipped with the L-39 in 1994 when its F-5E/Fs were relocated to southern Thailand to protect a developing industrial region of the country.

OV-10C Bronco of the Royal Thai Air Force (photo : Jetphotos)

In keeping with the region's recent history, and its use of air power, the RTAF also has an active COIN capability. The air force uses the venerable Rockwell OV-10C Bronco in this role, with 19 aircraft of the original 32-unit delivery still in operational service. RTAF officers say that they would have liked to acquire more Broncos, but the production line has long been closed. Instead, several GAF N-22B Nomads were bought and modified to a gunship configuration by Hawker Pacific.

Other COIN aircraft include AU-23A Peacemakers, militarised versions of the Swiss Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter built under licence.

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