Royal Thai Armed Forces

Royal Thai Armed Forces

Emblem of the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters
Founded 1852
Service branches Royal Thai Army
Royal Thai Navy
Royal Thai Air Force
Headquarters Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, Bangkok
Head of the Armed Forces King Vajiralongkorn of Thailand
Minister of Defence General Prawit Wongsuwan
Chief of the Defence Force 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 US$6.1 billion (FY2017)
Percent of GDP 1.5% (FY2016)
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 Australia
Czech Republic
South Africa
South Korea
United Kingdom
United States
Annual imports Singapore
Related articles
History Military history of Thailand
Ranks Military ranks of Thailand

The Royal Thai Armed Forces (Thai: กองทัพไทย; rtgs: Kong 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.[2] In fact the history of the Kings of Siam is teeming with tales of military conquest and power.[3] 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 Head of the Thai Armed Forces (จอมทัพไทย; rtgs: Chom Thap Thai) is King of Thailand,[4] 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.[5]

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 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.[6] 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.[7][8]

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.[9] and participating in the multinational force in Iraq, contributing 423 personnel from 2003 to 2004.[10]


As of 2015, the Royal Thai Armed Forces had 306,000 active duty and 245,000 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 its neighbour, Vietnam.[11]:5 [12] The Thai military has more than 1,750 flag officers (generals and admirals), a bloated number for a military of its size.[13] By comparison, the US military as of April 2011 had 964 flag officers for a force several times the size of Thailand's.[14] On 2 May 2015 1,043 new flag officers of all three services promoted in 2014-2015 took the oath of allegiance.[15] 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.[16] 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 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.[17][18] The budget for FY2017 is 214 billion baht (US$6.1 billion), a nominal increase of three percent.[19] The proposed budget again represents around 1.5 percent of GDP and eight percent of total government spending for FY2017.[20] 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.[11]:29


Ancient military forces

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 army was one of the major armed forces of Southeast 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.


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.

Franco-Siamese War (1893)

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.[21]

The Siamese Expeditionary Force in Paris, 1919.

World War I (1917–1918)

Main article: Siam in World War I

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.[22] The Expeditionary Force was given the honour of marching in the victory parade under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.[23] 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)

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.[24] 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)

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, 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 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.[25][26]

Korean War (1950–1953)

During the United Nations-mandated conflict in the Korean peninsula, Thailand provided a reinforced 1st Battalion from the 21st Infantry Regiment, Some 65,000 Thais served in Korea during the war. In 1953 the contingent participated in the Battle of Pork Chop Hill. At various times the battalion was attached to U.S. 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team and the British 29th Infantry Brigade. The kingdom also provided four naval vessels (HTMS Bangprakong, Bangpako, Tachin and Prasae) and an air transport unit to the UN command structure. The contingent was actively engaged and suffered heavy casualties, including 139 dead and over 300 wounded. They returned to Thailand in 1955.[27][28][29]

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

Vietnam War (1955–1975)

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 1963. Thailand allowed the United States Air Force in Thailand to use air bases and naval bases for US forces. Eventually, it contributed 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 US bases were closed.

Communist insurgency (1976-1980s)

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,[30] 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 former 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 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)

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 Yongchaiydht against the wishes of the government, the war ended with a Lao virtual surrender and return to status quo ante bellum. The two nations suffered combined casualties of about 1,000.[31]

East Timor (1999–2002)

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.[9] 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)

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.[32] Troops of the Royal Thai Army were attacked in the 2003 Karbala bombings, which killed two soldiers and wounded five others.[33] 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.[10]

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, but it had always been small scale. The insurgency intensified in 2004, when terrorist attacks were extended to ethnic Thai civilians in the provinces.[34] The Royal Thai Armed Forces in turn responded with strong armed tactics.[35] 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.[36]

Current developments

Thai and US Army Soldiers practice tactical manoeuvres during exercise Cobra Gold 2006 in Lop Buri.

Thai military deputized as police

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.[38]

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."[39]

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 cops 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.[40]

In a joint statement released on 5 April 2016, six groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), condemned the move.[41]

Weapons and equipment

The aircraft carrier HTMS Chakri Naruebet of the Royal Thai Navy.
Saab JAS 39 Gripen of the Royal Thai Air Force.
Equipment[42] QuantityIn ServiceOn 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 carriers 1 1 0
Warships 17 17 2 LPD
Fast Attack Craft-Missile (FAC-M)s 6 6 6
Submarines 0 0 3
Patrol boats 127 127 2

Uniforms, ranks, insignia

To build institutional solidarity and esprit de corps, each Thai service component has developed its own distinctive uniforms, ranking system, and insignia.[43] 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 Royal Thai Army Band in uniforms of various royal guards unit, ranked in the shape of the flag of Thailand

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.

Comparative officers and enlisted ranks

OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) and Student Officer
Thailand Thailand
จอมพล พลเอก พลโท พลตรี พลจัตวา พันเอก พันโท พันตรี ร้อยเอก ร้อยโท ร้อยตรี นักเรียนนายร้อย
Field Marshal General Lieutenant General Major General Brigadier Colonel Lieutenant Colonel Major Captain Lieutenant Sub Lieutenant Cadet Officer
Thailand Thailand
จอมพลเรือ พลเรือเอก พลเรือโท พลเรือตรี พลเรือจัตวา นาวาเอก นาวาโท นาวาตรี เรือเอก เรือโท เรือตรี นักเรียนนายเรือ
Admiral of the Fleet Admiral Vice Admiral Rear Admiral Commodore Captain Commander Lieutenant Commander Lieutenant Lieutenant Junior Grade Sub-Lieutenant Midshipman
Thailand Thailand
จอมพลอากาศ พลอากาศเอก พลอากาศโท พลอากาศตรี พลอากาศจัตวา นาวาอากาศเอก นาวาอากาศโท นาวาอากาศตรี เรืออากาศเอก เรืออากาศโท เรืออากาศตรี นักเรียนนายเรืออากาศ
Marshal of the Air Force Air Chief Marshal Air Marshal Air Vice Marshal Air Comodore Group Captain Wing Commander Squadron Leader Flight Lieutenant Flying Officer Pilot Officer Air Cadet
Thailand Thailand
No Equivalent No Insignia
จ่าสิบเอกพิเศษ จ่าสิบเอก จ่าสิบโท จ่าสิบตรี สิบเอก สิบโท สิบตรี สิบตรีกองประจำการ พลทหาร
Master Sergeant
1st Class
Master Sergeant
1st Class
Master Sergeant
2nd Class
Master Sergeant
3rd Class
Sergeant Corporal Lance Corporal Private
1st Class
Thailand Thailand
No Equivalent No Equivalent No Insignia
พันจ่าเอกพิเศษ พันจ่าเอก พันจ่าโท พันจ่าตรี จ่าเอก จ่าโท จ่าตรี พลทหาร
Chief Petty
Chief Petty
1st Class
Chief Petty
2nd Class
Chief Petty
3rd Class
Petty Officer
1st Class
Petty Officer
2nd Class
Petty Officer
3rd Class
Thailand Thailand
No Equivalent No Equivalent No Insignia
พันจ่าอากาศเอกพิเศษ พันจ่าอากาศเอก พันจ่าอากาศโท พันจ่าอากาศตรี จ่าอากาศเอก จ่าอากาศโท จ่าอากาศตรี พลทหาร
Flight Sergeant
1st Class
Flight Sergeant
1st Class
Flight Sergeant
2nd Class
Flight Sergeant
3rd Class
Sergeant Corporal Leading Aircraftman Aircraftman

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website

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  9. 1 2 UNTAET. Retrieved on 18 January 2012.
  10. 1 2 Thailand.
  11. 1 2 Chambers, Paul (2015). Civil-Military Relations in Thailand since the 2014 Coup; The Tragedy of Security Sector "Deform". Frankfurt: Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF). ISBN 978-3-946459-04-0. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  12. "Active Military Manpower by Country". Global Firepower. Global Firepower. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
  13. Cole, John; Sciacchitano, Steve (1 October 2013). "Thai army: new line-up, same fault-lines". Asia Times. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
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  16. Chapter 4 of the 2007 Constitution of Thailand
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  19. "Thai junta-picked MPs give military $124m budget hike". Daily Times. Agence France-Presse. 9 September 2016. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  20. Grevatt, Jon (2016-05-17). "Thai government proposes small increase in defence spending". IHS Jane's 360. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  21. Legacy of the Paknam clash. 2 November 2005
  22. Feature Articles – Thailand and the First World War. First World (22 August 2009). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  23. 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.
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  25. Thailand. (8 December 1941). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
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  28. Rottman, Gordon (2002). Korean War Order of Battle: United States, United Nations, and Communist Ground, Naval, and Air Forces, 1950-1953. Praeger. pp. 120–121. ISBN 9780275978358.
  29. Satjipanon, Chaiyong (22 June 2010). "Heroism of the Little Tigers". The Korean Herald. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  30. Thailand Communist Insurgency 1959–Present. Retrieved on 18 January 2012.
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  32. Thailand to withdraw troops from Iraq if attacked. Asian Tribune (21 April 2004).
  33. Karbala attacks kill 12, wound dozens. CNN (27 December 2003). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  34. Search – Global Edition – The New York Times. International Herald Tribune (29 March 2009). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  35. Thailand's counter-insurgency operations. (19 November 2007). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  36. Data from the (governmental) Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, cited in ISRANews report, 4 January 2013
  38. "Affront to justice system" (Editorial). Bangkok Post. 2016-04-01. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  39. "The Dissemination of the Final Constitution Draft and the issuance of the Head of the NCPO's Order No. 13/2559" (Press release). Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand. 2016-04-03. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  40. "In the dark on army's shadowy powers" (Editorial). Bangkok Post. 2016-04-03. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  41. "Giving soldiers police powers 'wrong': human rights groups". The Nation. Agence France Presse. 2016-04-05. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  42. [The Institute for National Security Studies", chapter Israel, 2008] 23 March 2008.
  43. Thailand. Retrieved on 18 January 2012.

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