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Royal Thai Armed Forces
Emblem of the Ministry of Defence of Thailand
Founded 1852
Service branches Royal Thai Army Flag Royal Thai Army
Royal Thai Navy Flag Royal Thai Navy
Royal Thai Air Force Flag Royal Thai Air Force
Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces King Vajiralongkorn
Minister of Defence General Prayut Chan-o-cha
Chief of Defence Forces General Chalermpol Srisawat
Military age 21–49
Conscription 21 years of age
Reaching military
age annually
(2005 est.)
Active personnel 305,860
Reserve personnel 245,000
Budget FY 2009–10 – ranked 38th
US$ 4,3 billion
Percent of GDP 1.9% (2009 est.)
Foreign suppliers United States
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Related articles
History Military history of Thailand
Ranks Military ranks of Thailand

The Royal Thai Armed Forces (Thai language: กองทัพไทย; rtgsKong 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 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 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; rtgsChom Thap Thai) is 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]

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 full-time 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 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 were in December 1941, when the Empire of Japan invaded then occupied the country, and in the 1980s with Vietnamese incursions into Thailand that led to several battles with the Thai Arm. 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.[9]

The Siamese Expeditionary Force in Paris, 1919.

  • World War I (1917–1918)
    King Vajiravudh on the 22 of July 1917 decided to declare 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.[10] The Expeditionary Force was given the honour of marching in the victory parade under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.[11] 19 Siamese soldiers died during the conflict, and their ashes are contained in the World War I monument at the northern 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 Marshall 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 dispute territories. The war also bolstered Phibun’s program of promoting Thai nationalism.[12] 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)
    In order 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 am, a frightened Phibun ordered an end to hostilities, though resistance continued for another day until all units could be notified. Pibun signed an armistice with Japan that allowed the Empire to move its troops through Thai territory. After one month of Thailand became part of the Axis when Pibun 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 as 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.[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 an air transport unit to the UN command structure. The contingent was actively engaged and suffered heavy casualties, including 139 dead. The returned to Thailand in 1955.[15]
Thai Soldiers Board C-130 at Long Thanh for Trip Home

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

  • Vietnam War (1955–1975)
    Due to its close proximity with Thailand, Vietnam's conflict was closely monitored by Bangkok. Thai involvement did not became official until the total involvement of the United States in 1963. Thailand allowed the to use air bases and naval bases for U.S. forces. Eventually contributing 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 has soured, and in 1977 President James Earl Carter withdrew all U.S. military personnel and the bases were closed.
  • Communist Insurgency (1976-1980s)
    The Communist victory in Vietnam in 1975 emboldened the Communist movement within Thailand, which has been in existence since the 1920s. After the Thammasat University massacre of leftist student demonstrators in 1976 and the repressive policies of rightwing Prime Minister Tanin Kraivixien, sympathies for the movement increased. By the late seventies it is estimated that the movement had as many as 12,000 armed insurgents,[16] 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 Communist former 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)
    The was a small conflict over mountainous territory including three disputed villages on the border between the 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 virtual Laotian victory[citation needed] and return to status quo ante bellum. The two nations suffered a combined casualty of about 1,000.[17]
US Army instructs Thai Army 2001

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 non-combat troops in August 2003 to nation building and medical assistance in post-Sadam Iraq.[18] Troops Royal Thai Army were attacked in the 2003 Karbala bombings, which killed 2 soldiers and wounded 5 others.[19] However, the Thai mission in Iraq was considered successful, 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.[8]
  • 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.[20] The Royal Thai Armed Forces in turn responded with heavy armed tactics.[21] 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. The insurgents have extended their attacks to ethnic Malay Thai Muslims who do not support them.[22]
  • Cambodian–Thai border stand-off (2008-ongoing)

Weapons and equipment[]

Equipment[23] Quantity In Service On 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 carrier batteries 1 1 0
Warships 17 17 2 LPD
Fast Attack Craft-Missile (FAC-M)s 6 6 6
submarine 0 0 0
Patrol boats 127 127 2

Uniforms, Ranks, and Insignia[24][]

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[]


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

  1. The Royal Thai Army. Brief History.
  2. Military History. Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  3. Chapter 2 of the 2007 Constitution of Thailand. Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  4. Ministry of Defense. Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  5. Chapter 4 of the 2007 Constitution of Thailand
  6. Vision.
  7. 7.0 7.1 UNTAET. Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Thailand.
  9. Legacy of the Paknam clash. November 2, 2005
  10. Feature Articles – Thailand and the First World War. First World (2009-08-22). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  11. 90th Anniversary of World War I. This Is The History of Siamese Volunteer Crop. « Thai Military Information Blog. (2008-11-11). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  12. Nation-building and the Pursuit of Nationalism under Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram
  13. Thailand. (1941-12-08). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  14. Free Thai. Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  15. Factsheet.
  16. Thailand Communist Insurgency 1959–Present. Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  17. Thailand-Laos Border War 1987–1988. The History Guy. Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  18. Thailand to withdraw troops from Iraq if attacked. Asian Tribune (2004-04-21).
  19. Karbala attacks kill 12, wound dozens. CNN (2003-12-27). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  20. Search – Global Edition – The New York Times. International Herald Tribune (2009-03-29). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  21. Thailand's counter-insurgency operations. (2007-11-19). Retrieved on 2012-01-18.
  22. Data from the (governmental) Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, cited in ISRANews report, 4 January 2013
  23. [The Institute for National Security Studies", chapter Israel, 2008] March 23, 2008.
  24. Thailand. Retrieved on 2012-01-18.

Further reading[]

  • Osornprasop, Sutayut, Thailand and the secret War in Laos, 1960-1974 (in) Albert Lau (ed.), Southeast Asia and the Cold War, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY : Routledge, 2012, ISBN 9780415684507 (hardback).

External links[]

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