From the early days of their development, the Thai armed forces have been primarily responsible for defending the country’s territorial integrity against foreign aggressors. In addition, they have traditionally served as a backup for the police in maintaining internal security and protecting citizens and their property. For several decades, elements of all three services have been included to varying degrees in military actions to contain, dispel, or crush insurgency.
The army’s main purpose was to defend the country against invasion by any foreign ground force. To be prepared for wartime tasks, the army was charged with training and equipping itself in peacetime in order to achieve and maintain a satisfactory state of combat readiness.
Although the national police frequently demonstrated their ability to handle isolated domestic disorders, problems generated by insurgents at times required the assistance of the stronger and better equipped military forces, particularly the army. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, a large part of the army was committed to counterinsurgency efforts and played a crucial role in the coordinated operations that virtually eliminated the communist insurgency. At times the armed forces found themselves in competition with the police for control of the national counterinsurgency effort. To eliminate this contention, the police defined their responsibility as maintaining law and order and combating low levels of insurgent activity, while the army was to locate and destroy guerrilla bases and fight in major encounters.
After 1975, however, the military leadership grew increasingly concerned over incursions by Vietnamese forces from Cambodia and by Laotian forces along the lengthy northern and northeastern border. With the defeat of most of the insurgency, the army concentrated on establishing defensive positions and developing the forces needed to counter the Vietnamese and Laotian threats.
The navy’s basic mission continued to be protecting the sea approaches to the country and assisting the internal security forces in suppressing insurgent activity. The navy was also responsible for conducting river patrols and antipiracy efforts in the Gulf of Thailand. The air force was charged with providing tactical air support to ground and naval forces. It also had a limited capability for aerial strikes against invading ground forces and air-to-air combat. Its counterinsurgency aircraft and trained air crews were deployed on numerous occasions to assist the army and the BPP against guerrilla bands.
In addition to their basic military roles, the armed forces participated in a variety of civic action programs designed to support the country’s development efforts. Public service by the armed forces included such major projects as road building and repair in remote regions, disaster relief, construction of dams and reservoirs, assistance in building irrigation works, and participation in agricultural reform efforts among the hill tribes. Aimed at preventing villagers and peasant farmers in the border regions from falling under the influence of insurgents, military civic action appeared highly successful.