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Once sailor, forever sailor

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Thailand has an aircraft carrier without any aircraft By Jeremy Bender


Business Insider 
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Thai aircraft carrier Chakri Naruebet
(US Navy/PH3 Alex C. Witte) For a brief period in the late 1990s, Thailand was the only country in southeast Asia that possessed one of the world's ultimate symbols of military strength: an aircraft carrier.
Its carrier, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet, was meant to be a source of pride for Thailand and symbolize the developing country's power. 
But that was before the late 1990s Asian financial crisis. Bangkok's grand plans for its carrier were significantly hobbled as a result of the region's economic downturn. 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 funding shortfalls. 

There are several aircraft carriers in service with Asian militaries, as China, India, Japan, and South Korea 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 microcosm of the country's dysfunction, rather than the symbol of growing national 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According to The Diplomat, Thailand's AV-8S Matador (Harrier) accompanying jet fleet was withdrawn from service in 2006, leaving Bangkok with an aircraft carrier without any actual aircraft. Thailand experienced a military coup that same year, along with a second one in 2014.

Thailand ordered its aircraft carrier from a Spain-based shipbuilder in 1992. The vessel was commissioned five years later, in 1997

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Thai aircraft carrier Chakri Naruebet
(AP/Pornchai) Crew members salute from Thailand's first aircraft carrier the HTMS Chakri Naruebet during an official ceremony to commission the Spanish-built ship at Sattahip Naval Base in Chon Buri, 70 kilometers (44 miles) south of Bangkok, Sunday, Aug. 10, 1997. The 182.6-meter-long vessel is capable of carrying nine Sea Harrier AV-8S jets and six SH-70B helicopters. 

Almost immediately, Thailand ran into budget constraints. The Chakri Naruebet was in port far more often than it was at sea. In 2006 its associated air wing was withdrawn. The Harriers that used to be deployed to the carrier are now over 30 years old, and Thailand was the last country in the world to fly first-generation Harrier airframes.

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Thai aircraft carrier Chakri Naruebet
(PH3 Alex C. Witte/US Navy) 

Even while operational, the carrier is tiny compared to the larger vessels that India and China posses, not to mention the US's super carrier fleet. It's now the smallest functioning aircraft carrier in the world. Here's how it compares to the USS Kitty Hawk:

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Thai Aircraft carrier Chakri Naruebet
(PH3 Alex C. Witte/US Navy) 

The Chakri Naruebet was built to carry 9 Harrier aircraft and 14 helicopters, along with a 605-person crew. Many of the aircraft are now decades old, and the carrier reportedly doesn't have a functioning anti-aircraft defense system

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THai Aircraft carrier
(AP/Pornchai) 

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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Thai aircraft carrier HTMS Chakri Naruebet
(REUTERS/Stringer Thailand) Tourists climb up to the Royal Chakri Naruebet light aircraft carrier with the help of the Thai Navy from Koh Tao Island after heavy storms in Surat Thani, south of Bangkok March 30, 2011. Severe flooding and mudslides in southern Thailand have killed 21 people, stranded thousands of tourists and threatened to delay shipments of rubber in the world's largest rubber-producing country, authorities said on Wednesday. Thailand's navy sent four vessels including an amphibious landing craft with on-board helicopters to the rubber-rich region to deliver supplies and rescue tourists and villagers in areas severely hit. 

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