With the situation in Myanmar becoming increasingly bloody after security forces killed over ninety people on Saturday 27 March, new allegations have been made against the country’s military that it has used the airspace of neighbouring Thailand to launch attacks on members of the Karen ethnic minority.
As the border is very mountainous and winds through multiple river valleys with few distinctive landmarks, it is entirely possible the Myanmar Air Force did stray into Thai airspace. They have a history of crossing borders to hit targets, and this has led to tragedy in the past.
In 2015, while fighting forces of the Kokang ethnic group on the Chinese border, the Myanmar Air Force crossed over the Chinese border multiple times in order to hit targets which were in Burma, as well as the Tatmadaw accidentally shelling villages in China itself. This eventually escalated to an airstrike that hit Chinese farmers by mistake, killing four and wounding nine.
This, as can be imagined, led to outrage in China and a substantial redeployment of air defense assets. It also led to a stern warning from the Chinese government on the consequences of further Burmese air incursions.
The recent airstrikes on Karen civilians have led to concerns that a similar event could occur on villages located in Thailand. This has created calls for a no-fly zone to be established on the border to ensure such an attack does not occur.
The Thai and Burmese have been enjoying more cordial relations in recent years, but there is a history of conflict between the two countries when the Tatmadaw have intruded into Thailand to attack the Karen and other ethic fighters in the past.
While its numbers have declined in recent years the Thai Air Force certainly has a great deal of capability should it need to enforce a no-fly zone along its border. While perhaps 40% of it’s fighter strength is made up of aging F-5 Tigers, the Thai Air Force also operate nearly forty F-16s, as well as seven Saab Gripens.
Perhaps most importantly they operate two Saab ERIEYE AWACs aircraft that would prove critical in providing information of any airspace incursions over the border.
With the situation in Myanmar being so uncertain and increasingly bloody, and the Tatmadaw resorting to much more violent methods against those who oppose them, it remains to be seen if Thailand will move to head off any possible issues now rather than wait to see if a tragedy occurs, as happened in China.