xoกองทัพอากาศไทย - Royal Thai Air Force

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                                                             Last update 16-04-2024

Northrop F-5s, Freedom Fighters and Tigers, were involved in combat operations from the very beginnining of their Thai service.

   Training, with participation to several international exercises, has been high on the agenda.

   Hereunder a list of known operations and exercises.

By the early 70's 13th Squadron Northrop F-5A flew strike missions
against Communist insurgents at the Western Cambodia border while in June 1970 its RF-5A flew reconnaissance missions in support of the
Cambodian Army when South Vietnamese troop invaded Cambodia.

During the years from 1979 till 1987 the 102nd Tactical Fighter Squadron Main role was air-superiority, secondary role air-to ground support but this was switched when it participated to attacks along the Thai-
Cambodian border, occupied by Vietnamese troops.

Two of its aircrafts intercepted in Southern Thailand, near the Cambodian frontier (Sa Keao), and force landed an Vietnamese intelligence gathering Antonov An-26 on 25-02-82.

Another interception was on  01-10-82 when two Northrop F-5E forced a Czecholosvakian Il-62, which had violated the Northern Thai airspace en-route from Hanoi to Bombay, to land at Bangkok International airport.

In the late 1980's 231st Squadron aircrafts participated to ground attack against Laotian and Vietnamese forces, both along the Laotian and Cambodian borders, resulting in in one Northrop F-5E being damaged on
04-03-87; another had less luck, it crashed on 04-03-87 near the Thai-Cambodian border.

An intelligence gathering Vietnamese Antonov An-26 was downed between Prachinburi and Sa Kaoe on 11-02-82 by 2 R Thai AF Northrop F-5E.

One of its Northrop F-5B was hit on 13-02-88 by an SA-7 Strela surface-to-air missile, damaging the engines. The aircraft could land safely. No luck had another Northrop F-5E on 04-02-88 when it crashed.


                                                                                                The damaged jet pipes of Northrop F-5B 400778 on 13-02-88

Again, several Northrop F-5Es of the 231 Squadron were engaged in an important attack on 14-02-88 against the Laotian base in Ban Bo San village (Northern Lao-Thai border). Anti-aircraft artillery, SA-7 missiles
contrasted the attack but the base was severly damaged and an Mil Mi-8 destroyed.

Ground fightings against communist insurgents at the Cambodian and Northern Laotian border were also supported by 403rd Squadrons aircrafts till 1988, temporarely based at Ubon Ratchathani; the right-side
engine of one of its single-seaters
was damaged on 04-03-87 during a two-ship mission near Chong Bok Nam Yuen by an SA-7 ground-to-air missile but could make an emergency landing at Ubon AFB.

A battle took place at the Borfer Post 9631 on 10th till 12th February 2001 when the Myanmar Army launched
an operation at the Thai/Myanmar border against various drug smugglers and guerrilla movements:
it involved also the Thai Army and Northrop F-5Es and Fs flew several attacks with LGB out of Chiang Mai AFB, starting from the 11th. A total of up to 70 combat sorties were flown;
particularly on the 12th one
two-seater, equipped with Litening pod, designated the targets while three Northrop F-5E armed each with two 2'000 lbs Paveway LGB on the targets. No aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft fire.

A completely different operation took place in 2005:  Wing 7 during the Tsunami disaster was to report the damages and situation to the Air Force commander and government allowing the corresponding reaction.
It also provided assistance during the rebuilding of the Southern aerea of the country.

The Thai Air Force participated very actively in international exercises, even in the 70's and 80's, when the Air Force was engaged in ground attack operations at home.

Red Flag
Not standard was the participation of newly built Tigers (5 Northrop F-5E and 3 F-5F) to "Red Flag 81-3" exercise at Nellis AFB (USA) between March 01st and May 03rd 1981. The aircrafts were transferred
to Bangkok
shortly after the excercise.

             A "clean" Northrop F-5E serial 91694 resting at Nellis AFB on 14-03-81                                  Northrop F-5F serial 91692 next to 2 other Thai Northrop F-5E Nellis AFB on 14-03-81

Cope Thunder 
                                                                     Patchses      edition 85                   edition 87
                     edition 89                    edition 90

This Clark AFB (Philippines) based exercise was first held in 1976 and ended in 1991, when the base was inactivated by the eruption of the vulcan Pinatubo.

It was conceived mainly to train little experienced pilots to combat level standard by experienced ones. USAF, US Marines, US Navy participated during the years with
General Dynamic F-16A/F-16B,
McDonnell F-15A, Fairchild-Republic A-10, F-15C, McDonnell F-18C, F-18E, F-18F to the various editions.

Thai Air Force Freedom Fighter and Tiger equipped units participated very actively to this exercise
; additional Thai fighters present were General Dynamics F-16A, F-16B, Aero L-39ZA/ART, Alpha Jet.

Northrop F-5A, F-5B of the 103 Squadron and 231 Squadron were present in 1982, 1984, 1985;
1988, 1989, 1990 only the 231 Squadron. Northrop F-5E, F-5F of the 102, 103, 403 Squadrons
participated to editions 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989. Northrop F-5E, F-5F of the 103 and 403 Squadrons were present in 1990.

  Photos Guido E. Bühlmann 
Nortrhop F-5A 23123/21257 at Clark AFB (Philippines) on 13-01-88 during "Cope Thunder 88"                              Northrop F-5E 10232/61674 seen on 13-01-88 at Clark AFB for Cope Thunder. In the background
                                                                                                                                                                    additional 102 Squadron F-5Es and USAF F-16s.

  Photo: Guido E. Bühlmann
                                                                               Northrop F-5E 40342/91694 seen at Clark AFB on 13-01-88 participating to Cope Thunder exercise.

The exercise was transferred to Eielson AFB (Alaska) in 1992 after the eruption of vulcan Pinatubo; it was replaced by exercise "Cope Tiger" taking place in Thailand.


  Cope Tiger
     frame 1

This is the main yearly local exercise to improve air combat, air-to-ground skills and practice interoperability (earlier known as Air Thai-Sing); it starts the year before with a command post exercise at Singapore -
Paya Lebar AB, followed by a flying exercise the next year at Korat AFB. The second part was held for the first time
(and ever since) in 1995; we give here only details of the second part.

Air Forces taking parts are Thailand, Singapore, USAF
, US Navy and US Marines. Aircrafts used in the course of the years were:

Thailand    -
General Dynamics F-16A/F-16B, Saab J-39 Gripen, Aero L-39ZA/ART, Alpha Jet;
Singapore - Northrop F-5E, SiAe/Northrop F-5S, SiAe/Northrop F-5T, SiAe/Douglas A-4SU, General Dynamics F-16C/F-16D, McDonnell F-15SG; Gulfsteam 550, Airbus A330
USAF        -
McDonnell F-15C/F-15D/F-15E, General Dynamics F-16C/F-16D, A-10; Lockheed Martin F-35
US Navy
/US Marines - McDonnell F/A-18C/F-18E/F-18F,
Grumman EA-6B.

Known Thai Tiger Squadrons participation:
1995 (5th-16th January): no information; 1996  no information; 1997 (16th-29th January : 211th Squadron with Northrop F-5E, 1998 ( 8th-20th February) : 711th quadronS, 211th Squadron with Northrop F-5E,
1999 (no information); 2000 (no information); 2001 (no information); 2002 (14th-25th January): no unit information known;  2003 (no information);  2004 (16th-27th February): 701st and 231st Squadron ;
2005 (24th January-February 4th): 701st with Northrop F-5E, 211th Squadron with Northrop F-5T; 2006 (07th-18th February): 211th Squadron with Northrop F-5T

                                                                                   Northrop F-5E 21123/91686 taking-off from Khorat on 12-01-97
Photo: archives The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

2007 (29th January-February 9th): 701st with Northrop F-5E in defensive and offensive counter air operations; 2008 (26 January-February 5th) : 701st with Northrop F-5E
2009 ( 9th-20th March): 701st with 2 Northrop F-5E, 211th Squadron with Northrop F-5T, (3 single- 1 doubleseater); 2010 ( 1st-12 March): 701st with Northrop F-5E,  211th Squadron with Northrop F-5T;
2011 (14th-24th March): 701st with Northrop F-5E, 211th Squadron with Northrop F-5T; 2012 (12th-23rd March): 701st with Northrop F-5E, 211th Squadron with 3 Northrop F-5T, 1 Northrop F-5F -
                                                                                                                                                                 2012   plus one 701 Squadron coded Northrop F-5F, but probably in use by 211 Squadron. Total 6 aircrafts
The 701 Squadron stood down in November 2007 to transition in 2011 to the new Saab J-39, leaving only 211 Squadron to participate to the excercise in the following editions:
2013 (11th-22nd March): 211th Squadron with 4 Northrop F-5TH, 1 Northrop F-5FH; 2014 (11th-22nd March) 4 Northrop F-5s: 211th Squadron with 6 Northrop F-5s, at least 2 Northrop F-5TH, 1 Northrop F-5F
2016 (12th-23rd March): 211th Squadron with at least 3 Northrop F-5TH; 2017 (19th-31st March):  2018 (12th-23rd March):  2019 (xxth-22nd March):; 2020-2021 not operated; 2022 (14th-25th March)
2023 (16th-31st March): at least 1 Northrop F-5FTH;  2024 (18th-29th March) -  30th anyversary of the excercise -.
   Photo: USAF/2nd Lt. Jacob Bailey  
Northrop F-5TH Phase I 21134/91707 at Korat AB on 12-03-13, Cope Tiger excercise                             
Special livery tail Northrop F-5TH Phse II seen at Korat AB, excercise Cope Tiger March 2022 Photo: R Thai AF
    Cobra Gold                 
                          Old (1987)                 New (2001)

ual Cobra Gold exercise was in 1987, initially limited to Thailand, and US forces (USAF, Marines, Navy)
including joint-combined air, naval and land operations; fighter aircraft operate from Khorat
AFB. Late
editions included Army troops from Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

US participation to the exercise has been by USAF A-10, McDonnell  F-15C/F-15D, the US Navy being represented by McDonnell F/A-18C/F-18D/F-18E.

Known Thai Northrop F-5E participation was in 1999 belonging to the 701st Squadron (12th to 24th May).                                                            

Korat AFB hosted the 2012 edition between 10-02-12 and 17-02-12. The February 2013 edition (11th to 21st February) was attended by Northrop F-5T of the 211 Squadron based at Korat AFB together with Thai AF
Aero L-39, General Dynamics F-16, US Marines McDonnell F/A-18C/D.


  Air Thamal    
Air Defence, Counter Air, Air Interdiction, CSAR are the goals of this exercise along the Thai/Malaysian border beginning from 1981 1992, initially every two years, from 1994 modified to yearly and from 1997 again every
two years;
General Dynamics F-16A, F-16B and Northrop F-5s have participated for the Thai AF together with Malaysian MiG-29N and McDonnell F/A-18D, BAe Hawk 108/208.

Northrop F-5s participated to Thailand held editions in 2003 at Khorat AFB

Editions held in Malaysia are: in 2005
 (15th-23rd June) at Kuantan AB with 5 Northrop F-5E from 701st Squadron, in 2009 edition (15th-25th June) was held at Butterworth AB with 211 Squadron's Northrop F-5T, F-5F
taking part.

                                                                   Photo: R Thai AF
                                                                    Northrop F-5T 21124 91687 at Butterworth AB during excercise Air Thamal 2009
                                                                    in the background the tail of an Malaysian AF McDonnell F-18.

The 24/2014 edition took place at Butterwoth AB, Malaysia, between 05-05-2014 and 17-05-2014. Five Northrop F-5E and 1 Northrop F-5F belonging to the 211 Squadron arrived on 04-05-2014, together with 4 Aero
L-39. Malaysian participants were BAe Hawks and Mikoyan-Gurevitch MiG-29s.

211 Squadron participated again to "Air Thamal 2015" at Khorat Thani with 2 Northrop F-5T, 1 Northrop F-5F one having the special tail colours, serial 21119/91682
. Malaysia was present with BAE Hawk fighter-bombers.

                                                                        Photo: Malaysian Defence
                                                              Northrop F-5E 21119 with special grey tail during Excercise Air Thamal 2015 together with
                                                              a Malaysian Canadair CL-41

On 19-05-16 six Northrop F-5E, together with 1 Bell UH-1 and 5 Malaysian BAE Hawk were present at Nakhon Ratchasima.
Thai Boomerang
This is a bilateral exercice between the R. Thai AF and the R Australian AF taking place at Khorat AB every two years.

The 103rd Squadron participated to it while equipped with Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighters.
Angels Thunder
In November 2007 103rd Squadron's attacked during exercise "Angels Thunder" fuel and various supplies depots of the "enemy".
Balance Torch
Two Northrop F-5 and 4 General Dynamics F-16 participated to this joint US/Thai exercise which took place in April 2002; it was concentrated to anti drug fighting by special forces from Lop Buri, Udon Thani and Nakhon


  Enduring partners 2023

  This excercise took place at Khorat AB  between 11-09 and 21-09-23 with the participation of
a total of 20 Thai Northrop F-S's, JAS Gripen and F-16s and USAF/Oegon ANG 5 F-15C Eagles, 2 KC-135R
  Washington ANG.

  Excercise badge as seen on a KC-135R
Washington ANG crew