Kingdom of Thailand
Thailand is officially the Kingdom of Thailand (ราชอาณาจักรไทย), a constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia. The nation was known as Siam (สยาม) until 1939, and again, briefly, from 1945 to 1949. Thailand has never been occupied or colonized by another nation, although it did permit the movement of Imperial Japanese troops over Thai territory during the Second World War.
Thailand became friendly with the United States in the years following the war and, although shaken by regime changes after various coups d'etat during subsequent years, was a reliable ally of the USA and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. In September 2006, a military junta overthrew the government and declared martial law, appointing its own prime minister and wrote an abbreviated constitution. Although martial law has since been partially revoked (2007) and a new constitution approved, the nation continues to struggle establishing a fully democratic form of government outside the control of the military.
The Royal Thai Armed Forces (กองทัพไทย) consist of the Royal Thai Army (กองทัพบกไทย), Royal Thai Air Force (กองทัพอากาศไทย), and the Royal Thai Navy (กองทัพเรือไทย, ราชนาวีไทย), the latter of which contains the Royal Thai Marine Corps (นาวิกโยธินไทย). The Border Patrol Police (ตำรวจตระเวณชายแดน) is a paramilitary entity responsible for border security and counter-insurgency operations. Thai military personnel fought in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, only to be faced with a communist insurgency from 1976 to the 1980s and insursions from Vietnamese troops entering through Cambodia (1979-1988). The Royal Thai Armed Forces have been active within the United Nations, serving in peacekeeping roles in East Timor (1999-2002) and Iraq (2003-2004). They have also been dealing with an insurgency in the south of Thailand since 2004, waged primarily by Islamist Malays.
Thailand has been producing camouflage uniforms since the late Vietnam War, and was one of the first countries outside of South Vietnam to issue tiger stripe pattern uniforms to its military personnel. After the war ended, production of camouflage fabrics increased dramatically, leading the nation to become one of the major exporters of military textiles in Southeast Asia during the 1970s and 1980s. Thai factories have supplied military and paramilitary forces in Laos, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, and the Philippines, although since the 1990s they have been hard pressed to compete with the major suppliers in South Korea and China. Yet despite being a major producer of camouflage fabric and uniforms, the Royal Thai Armed Forces have not embraced the dozens of different designs found in neighboring nations like Indonesia or the Philippines. Instead, a core number of designs have been re-printed for years, producing sub-variations of their own as a result of the wide number of production techniques, textiles, and available materials such as fabric dyes. Most Thai camouflage designs fall into three major categories: tiger stripe patterns, leaf patterns, and woodland patterns, with a handful of exceptions falling outside. Virtually all branches of service have worn some form of camouflage at one time or another with very little consistency or regulations within the branches of service themselves, and it is seldom a particular version of a pattern can be categorized as being utilized by a single unit or branch of service.
Thai Camouflage Patterns
- Early Thai tiger stripe camouflage was copied from the South Vietnamese issued uniforms of the period, with some patterns continuing in production long after the war had ended. Most of the early Thai tiger patterns have crisp and cleanly defined stripes just like the ARVN versions, and were printed on medium or heavyweight cotton fabrics.
- Following end of the Vietnam War, Thailand began producing copies of the US m1948 ERDL camouflage pattern. Production continued, with modifications, well into the 1980s. The earliest versions are printed on heavyweight cotton material, and tend to appear much darker and to have less contrast due to the way the fabric absorbed the dyes.
- Another early Thai pattern copied from the USA was a locally-produced version of the USMC "Standard" or "wine leaf" pattern. As with the early ERDL copies, the Thai version of this pattern tended to be darker as it was printed on heavyweight cotton that obsorbed the dyes.
- Production of various tiger stripe camouflage patterns has continued in Thailand well into the present period, although their use seems to have died out except with a handful of elite units. The variations that began to emerge during the 1980s exhibit a number of features not found on the early war period models. Namely, the fine details tend to be lost in sloppier printing, and as well the colors tend to have less contrast. Most tiger stripe camouflage from this era is printed on lightweight cotton fabric, but seldom ripstop.
- One tiger pattern variation unique to Thailand is known as "shadowtiger." The pattern is characterized by the fact that the three colors used to overprint the stripes are so dark that the design tends to blend together into a very dark green or black with small flecks of light at distances of several feel or more. This is undoubtedly the most popular of the Thai tiger patterns, and has been worn continually by special operations units of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force for years. Although still available from tailor shops, the pattern seems to be falling into disuse. As illustrated below, there are a multitude of variants in this pattern printed on a variety of fabrics.
- By the 1980s, the Thai copies of m1948 ERDL were being printed on lightweight fabrics, including ripstop cotton, on which the contrast is much more pronounced than on earlier models. This pattern was very common among all services into the early 1990s.
- A variation of the Thai leaf pattern for the Royal Thai Marine Corps was printed on HBT fabric.
- Also produced during the 1980s was a version of the leaf pattern with a horizontal orientation. Sources suggest this was primarily worn by units of the Thai Police, including the Border Patrol Police.
- This variation of the standard Thai ERDL pattern substitutes grey for brown, and is also attributed to units of the Thai Police & BPP.
- A standardization of sorts occurred during the late 1980s and early 1990s, in which Royal Thai Army units were all issued with a new version of the leaf camouflage pattern. This Thai Army leaf pattern incorporates some different shapes to the original m1948 ERDL and later Thai copies of the pattern, but it also experienced a standardization of the dyes used in the printing. Although manufactured on a variety of fabrics, the colors of the patterns are much more consistent than the Thai leaf designs of the early 1980s.
- Royal Thai AF Security Police have worn a blue leaf pattern camouflage design since the mid-1980s.
- The Royal Thai Marine Corps also standardized to their own camouflage pattern in 1990s, and has continued to be worn well into the present era. Printed on a variety of fabrics, the colors vary somewhat.
- Forest Rangers of the Thai Deparment of National Parks wear a unique camouflage design incorporating foliage and wildlife designs into the scheme.
- Thai military personnel deployed to Iraq and other arid regions have worn a locally-made copy of the US six-color "chocolate chip" camouflage design.
- In 2008, the Royal Thai Army replaced the long-lived leaf pattern with a pixelated design incorporating the same basic coloration.
- The RTAF Security Police have also adopted a pixelated pattern in recent years, using a different coloration.
- Most recently (2009-10), the Royal Thai Marine Corps have adopted their own pixelated camouflage pattern, seen here.
- A pixelated desert camouflage pattern first appeared in 2013, worn by Thai military personnel deployed to the Dharfur region of Sudan as part of a UN mission (UNAMID). The pattern consisted of pixelated shapes in black and medium brown on a light, sand-colored background.
- In 2013, a new component of the Forest Rangers, called the "King of Tigers Unit," made its debut. The unit is a unique force with a very high degree of specialized training to combat the growing problem of wildlife-trafficking, and deploys wearing a new pixelated camouflage design seen here.
- In existence since 1954, the Or Sor or Volunteer Defence Corps are the oldest paramilitary group in Thailand. The unit is armed, trained and paid for by the Ministry of Interior, and their primary responsibility is to protect infrastructure, facilities and protection to MOI officials. The current field uniform of the VDC is a locally-made copy of the US-designed tricolor desert camouflage pattern.
- Newly adopted circa 2016, the Royal Thai Navy issues a pixelated camouflage design to non-special operations personnel, utilizing a mostly-grey colorway.