Thailand, China to resume air force exercises after pandemic pause

Thailand, China to resume air force exercises after pandemic pause

FILE PHOTO: China's J-10 fighter jets from the People's Liberation Army Air Force August 1st Aerobatics Team perform during a media demonstration at the Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Nakhon Ratchasima province, Nov 24, 2015. (Reuters)
FILE PHOTO: China's J-10 fighter jets from the People's Liberation Army Air Force August 1st Aerobatics Team perform during a media demonstration at the Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Nakhon Ratchasima province, Nov 24, 2015. (Reuters)

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 US 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 US 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 US house 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 the 2014 military coup. The kingdom has sought to strengthen relations with China and has made several defence procurements.

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

According to an air force source, who asked not to be named because he was unauthorised 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.

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

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