The region’s most attractive country is a hotbed for political turmoil. Thailand’s martial class have tried seizing power at least 14 times since the beginning of the 20th century–and they’ve succeeded often enough.
With a military junta firmly in control despite a new king, Thailand seeks to industrialize further through advanced manufacturing. This is seen as an antidote to lackluster economic growth since 2014. Thailand’s GDP reached $395 billion in 2015 and domestic politics remains calm.
Always an imperial entity with a heritage of feuding with its neighbors, Thailand’s clout is more than enough to deter Myanmar, Malaysia, Laos, and Cambodia. The monarchy also has a long tradition of favoring the armed forces, whose numbers total an estimated 310,000 with 190,000 soldiers in the army. The government’s annual defense budget was a generous $6.1 billion in 2017.
Commanding the Gulf of Thailand gives Bangkok reason to furnish an impressive navy that includes a token (and useless) aircraft carrier, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet, along with dozens of small patrol ships. The air force prefers single engine combat aircraft like the F-16C/D and the JAS 39 Gripen.
Being a country spread over flood plains and a vast river delta, Thailand’s army fields a large number of American and Chinese medium tanks. A batch of Ukrainian T-84’s adds color to an already diverse mechanized fleet. With Bangkok and Beijing wrapped in a new dalliance, upcoming arms deals emphasize Thailand’s obsession with its mechanized forces. This is why its domestic arms industry specializes in the assembly, repair, and overhaul of vehicles.