By Thai Newsroom Reporters
THURSDAY’S EVENT IN WHICH a couple of the Thai air force’s F-16 Fighting Falcon jets rumbled in the sky over the Thai-Myanmar border was merely a show of force after an intruding MiG-29 Fulcrum jet had flown back, said an air force source today (July 3).
The air force’s Air Operations Centre at Don Mueang headquarters had been alerted real-time of the Myanmar MiG-29 fighter jet intruding into Thai airspace over Popphra district of Tak across the border from Myawaddy township in southern Myanmar but no orders were immediately flashed out to Wing 4 air base in Takhli where the F-16 fighters are based until nearly an hour later, said the source who only spoke on condition of anonymity.
The F-16 pilots who reportedly spent some 10 minutes scrambling from Takhli to the scene of airborne intrusion at the Thai-Myanmar border would not be tasked with intercepting the MiG-29 jet because the intruder already flew back into Myanmar airspace after it had conducted airstrikes on Karen rebel bases with the use of Thai airspace, according to the source.
The Karen rebels have holed up in high terrains on the Thai side of the border, tempting the Myanmar jet to zigzag into the Thai airspace to pinpoint angles of attack with air-to-surface missiles, bombs and gunfire.
“The (F-16) pilots already knew they were not going to intercept or engage in a dogfight with the retreating intruder. It was only a show of force to assure the air force’s capabilities of deterring an airborne invasion and maintain the country’s territorial integrity, albeit in a rather belated manner,” he said.
The F-16s would have sat idly at their air base without the orders to make their presence felt over the border only if the MiG-29 had not flown at low altitude spending as much time as 15 minutes in Thai airspace, scaring away the villagers of Popphra, the source said.
Under the Quick Reaction Alert procedure, it would normally take no more than 10 minutes for an F-16 to arrive at the Thai-Myanmar border from Takhli air base, he said.
“It’s just like a movie in which police arrive at the scene of a crime after it has already been committed,” he put it.
It remains to be seen whether the air force officer in charge of the Air Operations Centre might have probably overlooked the Myanmar jet intrusion which popped up on radar at the border and was reported real-time to Don Mueang.
Meanwhile, F-16 pilot-turned-MP Anudit Nakorntap quoted an air force officer as saying the MiG-29 fighter jet had followed the international procedure for airborne verifications ahead of its combat mission against the Karen bases at the border.
Anudit confirmed that the air force’s air defence systems used in border areas and at the Don Mueang headquarters have remained efficient and reliable and could accurately detect any aircraft at and around the borders of the country.
The former F-16 pilot declined to comment whether an air force marshal in charge of operations at the time might possibly have turned blind eye to the Myanmar jet’s intrusion into Thai airspace over Popphra to conduct its combat mission against the Karen bases along the border.
The House Armed Services Committee will shortly summon Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and retiring air force chief ACM Napadej Dhupatemiya for testimony over the incident which the premier considered to be “no big trouble”, saying the MiG jet had virtually made “a little too wide U-turn” over the shared border.
ACM Napadej promptly downplayed the incident, comparing the intruder to a neighbour who may have “unintentionally” trespassed upon one’s front yard, and said the Myanmar government has already offered apologies for the incident.
Chulalongkorn University political scientist Surachart Bamrungsuk said the Prayut government might probably be alleged by the international community of having secretly provided the airspace for Myanmar’s aerial attacks on the Karens.
He suggested that the Thai side should at all times remain neutral toward Myanmar’s sustained conflict with armed minority groups whilst upholding the internationally recognized human rights principles.
Top: The Myanmar MiG-19 flying over Thai airspace in Popphra district of Tak province. Photo: Amarin TV
Front Page: Two Royal Thai Air Force F-16 aircraft fly in formation in Korat. Photo: Cpl. Melani R. Stemmler, US Marine Corps.