The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) will hold a 10-day joint air exercise in Udon Thani, a source said yesterday. China has confirmed that it will join “Falcon Strike 2022” set to take place from August 14-24 at Royal Thai Air Force Wing 23. The Bangkok Post reported that China is expected to send a fleet of six J-10C/S fighter jets, a JH-7AI fighter-bomber and a Shaanxi KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft to take part in the exercise. Chinese Su-27 fighter jets will not be involved in the drill.
The Royal Thai Air Force will deploy five Gripen aircraft, three Alphajet attack aircraft and a SAAB 340 AEW early warning and control aircraft. The US-made F16 jets will not participate. The previous round was held in 2019 also at Udon Thani-based Wing 23. The exercise will strengthen ties between the two nations as part of cooperative efforts to help maintain peace and security in the region. The drill also will enhance the two countries’ aviation capabilities and efficiency while likewise boosting relations between air force personnel.
The “Falcon Strike” exercise has taken place four times since 2015 and will run for 11 days from Aug 14 at a base in northeastern Udon Thani that was home to U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. The drills, the dates for which were decided in June, take place in a month when China is holding major exercises in the sea and airspace around Taiwan, in a show of military power following U.S. house speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruled island, which Beijing regards as its own.
Thailand is the oldest U.S. ally in Asia but ties were complicated by a 2014 military coup. Thailand has sought to strengthen its relations with China and has made several defence procurements. The Royal Thai Air Force, one of the most equipped in the region, has historically used U.S. hardware. The kingdom is the oldest ally of the US in Asia but at the same time, Thailand has sought to strengthen economic relations with China over the past several years. And the political debate as to whether Thailand should pick a side is set to rumble on for a while yet.