In September 2023, the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) and the United States Air Force (USAF) came together to participate in the first combined air exercise, “Enduring Partners Engagement 2023,” held at Wing 1 Korat. This significant event, conducted as part of the State Partnership Program between the United States and partner nations, showcased the strength of the relationship between the two air forces and offered invaluable training opportunities. During this exercise, the U.S. Air National Guard (ANG) played a pivotal role by deploying five F-15C fighter jets from the Oregon ANG, along with two KC-135R aerial refueling aircraft from the Air National Guard Washington ANG.
This collaboration allowed both air forces to engage in realistic training scenarios, enhancing their combat readiness and interoperability. The Thai Air Force brought their own formidable assets to the exercise, including F-16A/B Block 15 OCU/ADF aircraft from Squadron 103, Wing 1, F-16 AM/BM EMLU planes from 403 Squadron, Wing 4, Fighter Gripen C/D jets operated by Squadron 701, Wing 7, and Fighter F-5E/F TH Super Tigris aircraft from Squadron 211, Wing 21. The presence of these diverse aircraft types enabled comprehensive training across various operational domains. While the joint exercise successfully demonstrated the mutual benefits of the partnership, it also shed light on a recent controversy within the Royal Thai Air Force.
Opposing parties in the Thai parliament criticized the RTAF for allocating a budget originally intended for the procurement of F-35A fighter jets, which the United States did not sell to Thailand. The Royal Thai Air Force and the United States Air Force have proven their commitment to enduring partnership through their successful joint exercise in 2023. However, the budgetary challenges and procurement issues facing the RTAF in the aftermath of this exercise highlight the complexities and uncertainties involved in maintaining a modern and capable air force. The decisions made in the coming months will shape the future of the RTAF and its ability to defend Thailand’s airspace effectively.