Thailand, China to resume air force exercises after pandemic pause


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An annual joint fighter jets exercise between Thailand and China will resume later this month after being put on hold for two years during the pandemic, the Thai air force said, with a former U.S. air base chosen to host the event.

The “Falcon Strike” exercise has taken place four times since 2015 and will run for 11 days from Aug 14 at a base in northeastern Udon Thani that was home to U.S. forces during the Vietnam War.

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

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TAIPEI, TAIWAN: Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), speaks after receiving the Order of Propitious Clouds with Special Grand Cordon, Taiwan’s highest civilian honor.
(Handout/Getty Images)

Thailand is the oldest U.S. 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.

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Chinese military helicopters fly past Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest point from Taiwan, in Fujian province on August 4, 2022, ahead of massive military drills off Taiwan following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the self-ruled island.

Chinese military helicopters fly past Pingtan island, one of mainland China’s closest point from Taiwan, in Fujian province on August 4, 2022, ahead of massive military drills off Taiwan following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruled island.
(HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Thai air force, one of the most equipped in the region, has historically used U.S. hardware and is seeking to procure F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin Corp to replace some of its aging F-16 models. 

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A Tactical Control Party Airmen and qualified Joint Terminal Aircraft Controller assigned to the 9th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Hood, Texas, directs an A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft during a close-air-support exercise at Fort Hood, Texas Oct. 30, 2020.

A Tactical Control Party Airmen and qualified Joint Terminal Aircraft Controller assigned to the 9th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Hood, Texas, directs an A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft during a close-air-support exercise at Fort Hood, Texas Oct. 30, 2020.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. JT May III)

According to an air force source, who asked not to be named because he was unauthorized to speak to media, Thailand will not deploy its F-16s for the exercises with China but will use its Saab JAS-39 Gripen fighters as well as German-made Alpha Jet light attack aircraft.

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It was not clear what type of fighter jets China would use, the source said.



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