The delegation of military and political leaders representing the seven partner nations participating in Cobra Gold stands with a formation of service members during the exercise's opening ceremony. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Osburn Christopher)

PHITSANULOK PROVINCE, Thailand - With a formation of 450 service members as a backdrop, leaders and dignitaries declared the 39th iteration of exercise Cobra Gold officially opened with a ceremony at Akathotsarot Camp, Feb. 25.

Royal Thai Gen. Pornpipat Benyasri, Royal Thai Armed Forces defence forces chief; Michael Heath, U.S. Embassy in Thailand chargé d’affaires; and Maj. Gen. Pete Johnson, U.S. Army Pacific's deputy commander, led the ceremony. They were joined by the ambassadors of Japan, Republic of Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia, along with a representative from Singapore, and many other dignitaries and national leaders representing numerous other participating nations.

Cobra Gold is co-sponsored by the Royal Thai and U.S. armed forces. This year the exercise runs through March 6 and will focus on humanitarian civic action, a cyber exercise, an amphibious assault exercise, a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise, culminating in the combined arms live fire exercise.

“This is the 39th Cobra Gold, making it the longest running international military exercise in the world,” Heath said. “While Cobra Gold is founded on the long and rich history of U.S.-Thai friendship, the exercise is clearly focused on the future and has grown to showcase multilateral friendship and interoperability.”

New additions to the exercise will introduce a landmine demolition demonstration and the participation of the F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft.

The exercise enhances security cooperation and advanced interoperability to increase partner capacity in planning and executing complex and realistic multinational force and combined task force operations.

“The Cobra Gold exercise serves as the foundation of the knowledge, ability and military skills of every man and woman who have participated,” Benyasri said. “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.”

Cobra Gold seeks to improve the capabilities of participating nations to plan and conduct combined and joint operations; build relationships among participating nations across the region; and improve interoperability over a range of activities, including enhancing maritime security and responding to large-scale natural disasters.

“This exercise provides our forces a critical opportunity to train together on complex and challenging missions, to build trust and prepare us to fight together if ever needed in defense of the values and nations we serve,” Johnson said.

Participating nations this year include Thailand, the United States of America, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea.

Pacific Fleet note: Sailors of the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) and dock landing ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20), along with embarked Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) arrived in Thailand, Feb. 22, and are among the joint U.S. forces participating in the exercise.

U.S. and Royal Thai armed forces service members hold the flags of the participating nations during the opening ceremony. (U.S. Navy/MC1 Julio Rivera)

Royal Thai Navy sailors look on as USS America (LHA 6) arrived at Laem Chabang port, Feb. 22, for a visit in preparation for Cobra Gold. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Monik Phan)