For a brief period in the late 1990s, Thailand was the only country in southeast Asia that possessed one of the ultimate symbols of military strength: an aircraft carrier.
Its carrier, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet, was meant to be a point of pride for Thailand and symbolize the developing country’s power.
Then the late 1990s Asian financial crisis hit Thailand. Bangkok’s grand plans for its carrier were significantly hobbled. Commissioned in 1997, the same year the financial crisis struck the country, the Chakri Naruebet — which means “Sovereign of the Chakri dynasty,” the Thai monarchy’s ruling family — was mostly consigned to sitting in port due to lack of funding.
Now, according to The Motley Fool, Asia has plenty of aircraft carriers, as China, India, Japan, and South Korea all have carriers of different sizes. Not wanting to be left out, Singapore is on its way to constructing a carrier too.
All this competition has only made Thailand’s once-proud carrier look like a bizarre reminder of the country’s dysfunction, rather than the symbol of growing prestige that it was intended to be.
According to The Diplomat, Thailand’s AV-8S Matador (Harrier) accompanying jet fleet was withdrawn from service in 2006, leaving Bangkok with an aircraft carrier without aircraft. Thailand experienced a military coup that same year, along with a second one in 2014.
Thailand ordered its aircraft carrier from Spain in 1992. The vessel was commissioned five years later, in 1997
Almost immediately, Thailand ran into budget constraints. The Chakri Naruebet was put to port for the better part of each month and in 2006 its associated air wing was withdrawn. The Harriers are now over 30 years old.
Even while operational, the carrier has been outclassed by the larger vessels of India and China, not to mention the US’s super carrier fleet pictured below. It’s now the smallest functioning aircraft carrier in the world.
The Chakri Naruebet was built to carry 9 Harrier aircraft and 14 helicopters, with a 605-person crew. Some of those planes are decades old, and the carrier reportedly doesn’t have a functioning anti-aircraft defense system.
Still, despite its shortcomings, the Chakri Naruebet has proved useful in humanitarian missions. The Diplomat notes that the carrier was used after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as well as in rescue operations after flooding in Thailand in 2010 and 2011.
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