The Royal Thai Air Force was the most recently formed of the three services. The air force had a command structure consisting of five groups: headquarters, logistics support, education, special services, and combat forces. The headquarters group in Bangkok performed the usual general staff functions, including planning and directing operations of the combat elements. The logistics support group provided engineering, communications, ordnance, transportation, quartermaster, and medical services support. The education group coordinated and supervised all air force training programs. The special service group was responsible for the welfare of air force personnel and coordinated the activities of Thai civil aviation with those of the air force.
The operational units of the air force were organized into two functional elements: a tactical air command structured and equipped for conventional warfare and an aerial security force trained and geared for counterinsurgency and other internal security missions. In 1987 the tactical air command had a combat force of one squadron committed to forward ground attack, two squadrons of fighter-interceptors also used for armed reconnaissance, a separate reconnaissance squadron that also served in a training role, three transport squadrons, one utility squadron, two helicopter squadrons, and one training squadron. The security force consisted of seven counterinsurgency squadrons, equipped with helicopter gunships, and other light aircraft suitable for counterinsurgency operations. Airfield security was provided by four battalions of troops trained in perimeter defense tactics.
The air force maintained a number of modern bases from which it conducted its administrative, transport, and training operations. The bases, which were constructed between 1954 and 1968, had permanent buildings, sophisticated ground support equipment, and some of the best runways in Asia. All but one were part of the network of airfields built and used by United States forces until their withdrawal from Thailand in 1976. Consolidating the equipment left by the departing units in accordance with government-to-government agreements, the Thai air force assumed use of the installations at Ta Khli and Nakhon Ratchasima. In the late 1980s, these bases and Don Muang Air Base outside Bangkok, which the air force shared with civil aviation, remained the primary operational holdings. Maintenance of the facilities at other bases abandoned by the United States proved too costly and exceeded Thai needs. Nonetheless, all runways were still available for training and emergency use.
The American withdrawal had quickly revealed to the Thai Supreme Command the inadequacy of its air force in the event of a conventional war in Southeast Asia. Accordingly, in the 1980s the government allotted large amounts of money for the purchase of modern aircraft and spare parts. Thirty-eight F-5E and F-5F fighter-bombers purchased from the Northrop Corporation formed the nucleus of the air force’s defense and tactical firepower. The F-5Es were accompanied by training teams of American civilian and military technicians, who worked with members of the Thai air force. In addition to the F-5E and F-5F fighter-bombers, OV-10C aircraft, transports, and helicopters were added to the air force equipment inventory (see thailand/th_appen.asp#table19"> table 19, Appendix). In 1985 the United States Congress authorized the sale of the F-16 fighter to Thailand. A total of twelve of these aircraft were scheduled for delivery in 1988.