Bilateral Thai-China Exercise Falcon Strike Returns After Covid

RTAF Gripen and Saab 340 AEW&C. (Saab)
RTAF Gripen and Saab 340 AEW&C. (Saab)

An annual joint fighter jets exercise between Thailand and China resumed this month after being put on hold for two years during the pandemic, according to the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF). 

The Falcon Strike exercise has taken place four times since 2015 and began a run of 11 days from 14 August at a base in northeastern Udon Thani that was home to United States (US) forces during the Vietnam War.

The drills, the dates for which were decided in June, take place in a month when China has been holding major exercises in the sea and airspace around Taiwan, in a show of military power following US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruled island, which Beijing regards as its own.

Thailand is the oldest US 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 from the country.

The RTAF, one of the best equipped air forces in the region, has historically used US aircraft and is seeking to procure F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin to replace some of its ageing F-16 aircraft.

According to an air force source, the RTAF will not deploy its F-16s for the exercises with China but will deploy five Saab Gripen aircraft, three Dassault/Dornier Alphajet attack aircraft and a Saab 340 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.

China is expected to send a fleet of six J-10C/S fighter aircraft, a JH-7AI fighter-bomber and a Shaanxi KJ-500 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft to take part in the exercise. Key training courses such as air support, strikes on ground targets, and small- and large-scale troop deployment will be included.

by David Oliver