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39th Cobra Gold exercise comes to close in Thailand

06 March 2020

From 1st Lt. Timothy Hayes, USARPAC

Cobra Gold demonstrates the strong bond between the nations of the Indo-Pacific and their ability to operate together.

BAN DAN LAN HOI, Thailand - Leaders and commanders from Indo-Pacific nations participating in Cobra Gold 2020 came together to give final remarks and shake hands as the two-week exercise came to a close, March 6.

Cobra Gold is an annual exercise co-hosted by the United States and Thailand. The exercise seeks to improve the capabilities of participating nations to plan and conduct combined and joint operations, build and maintain relationships across the region, and improve interoperability. It demonstrates the strong bond between the nations of the Indo-Pacific and their ability to operate together.

“The Cobra Gold exercise serves as the foundation of the knowledge, ability and military skills of every man and woman who have participated,” said Gen. Pornpipat Benyasri, the Chief of Defence Forces of the Royal Thai Armed Forces. “It is a great opportunity for us all who are of different regions to train together for a period of two weeks. This would certainly allow us to learn from each other, to share and gain great experiences as much as we can.”

This year's Cobra Gold, the 39th iteration, was the largest to date with new additions to the exercise including the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft and the combined joint high mobility artillery rocket system rapid insertion. The F-35Bs made their debut during the amphibious landing exercise, which combined the lethality and readiness of U.S. and Royal Thai Armed Forces. U.S. Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted the operation side-by-side with Royal Thai Marines while the F-35Bs roared overhead, simulating supporting fire.

“Cobra Gold is a tremendous opportunity to reinforce the relationship with the Kingdom of Thailand and the Royal Thai forces,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Josh Rudd, 25th Infantry Division deputy commanding general-operations. “We had some different capabilities this year with the Marine F-35 and its tremendous capabilities and a great opportunity to have it part of this amphibious landing exercise.”

Another addition to this year’s exercise was the landmine reduction operation, involving 16 U.S. explosive ordnance disposal participants from the Marine Corps, Army, Navy, and Air Force, and 86 Thai EOD technicians and medical personnel. The operation’s intent was to bring subject matter experts together to reduce landmines and unexploded ordnance in the region.

Cobra Gold 20 featured a cyberspace field training exercise for the second year in a row. The six fully participating nations came together to patrol and defend their own networks to develop strategies for operating in a modern information environment. This event focused on combining defensive cyber operations in a training environment comprised of self-contained networks where participants banded together to patrol, defend, communicate and share information with one another.

“Anytime we work in a coalition environment, it’s positive, whether it’s cyber or one of the other elements of Cobra Gold,” said U.S. Marine Col. Larry Jenkins, III Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group commanding officer. “Anytime we have an opportunity to work with our coalition partners, it builds relationships and makes us stronger as a coalition and as potential partners.”

These relationships and strong partnerships can be seen through multiple other events which took place throughout the country of Thailand. In one of these events, the Japanese Self Defense Force led the joint noncombatant evacuation operation, which showcased each country’s ability to quickly respond and maintain peace and security in the region.

Cobra Gold 20, similar to previous years, also focused on humanitarian civic action projects. Throughout the entirety of Cobra Gold 20, the fully participating nations, along with limited participation from China and India, assisted in the engineering civic action programs at various sites in Thailand. These projects also included key leader and community relations engagements, and community health engagements. The events brought nation’s armed service members and locals together as they worked to develop new facilities and curriculums at local schools to replace infrastructure that has grown too old or has been nonexistent.

"The alliance we have with these countries, the fact that they can come together and create something that’s visual but more importantly useful to the Thai people is just a small manifestation of the relationship,” said Lt. Gen Stacy Clardy, commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force. “The relationship is built year in and year out by Marines, Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen who have a chance to come here and work with the Thai military. Multinational relationships across this region are why we have stability and why we’ve had it for so long in the western Pacific.”

The humanitarian aid and disaster relief exercise brought together Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the U.S, with limited participation from China and India. This operation highlighted each country’s response techniques and their ability to appropriately and timely respond to any natural disaster situation.

All these events and two weeks of training culminated with the final exercise, the combined arms live-fire exercise. This exercise is designed to maintain readiness and increase the capability, capacity and interoperability of partner nations in the Indo-Pacific region. The U.S. and Royal Thai Armed Forces worked together once again as they were put through various simulated situations including a counter attack and medical evacuation while supporting fire was provided by the F-35Bs, HIMARS and other supporting fires.

“This year I think we’ve really pushed the ball forward, bringing the F-35 for the first time ever to Thailand and incorporating that in live-fire operations. Also, we’ve enhanced some of our operations with the HIMARS,” said Col. Robert Brodie, commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and responsible commander for all Marine Corps forces participating in Cobra Gold 20. “This year the HIMARS are a part of the 31st MEU, [in] concert with the F-35s with ground forces, this is really taking it to the next level of warfare and demonstrating to our partners how we can combine our forces to increase our lethality and our capability. Albeit we’re here for peace and stability in the region, what we are doing is making sure we are ready for conflict and crisis.”

Upon completion of the CALFEX, the participating nations transitioned into the closing ceremony for exercise Cobra Gold 20. This informal ceremony brought together leaders from the seven participating nations to share closing remarks and exchange gifts. The relationships and partnerships built and maintained can be seen throughout each of the exercises but it is this moment that highlights the long lasting friendship and alliance of the participating nations around the Indo-Pacific region.

“As my country and the Kingdom of Thailand look back on over two centuries of friendship, both of our nations are pleased to see all the many benefits the U.S.-Thai alliance brings,” said Michael DeSombre, U.S. Ambassador of Thailand.

Exercise Cobra Gold demonstrates the commitment of the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States to our long-standing alliance, promotes regional partnerships and advances security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.

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