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Cope North 2023 hones strategic combat skills, coordination among Pacific partners


Allies and partners in the Pacific launched exercise Cope North 2023 in February, bolstering their capacity for airborne force coordination, agile combat and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).

The exercise, sponsored by United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), brought together about 2,000 members of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), French Air and Space Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, and U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. With 100 aircraft, the forces flew 1,200 sorties across seven islands and 10 airfields. (Pictured: Japan Air Self-Defense Force and U.S. Air Force aircraft fly in formation near Guam during Cope North in February 2023.)

Cope North 23 activities stretched from the Japanese island of Iwo Jima in the north to Palau in the south. Multilateral forces also carried out operations in Rota, Saipan and Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands; Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia; and at Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base, Won Pat International Airport and Northwest Field.

Their aim: Enhancing security and stability to maintain a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. The drills demanded precise multilateral planning, execution and debrief training for large forces. RAAF Group Capt. Robert Graham called Cope North an excellent opportunity to consolidate and enhance coordination. “What we really want to do is work on interoperability,” he said. “We utilize a lot of the same equipment, tactics, and procedures, but the subtle differences can be critical. That’s why it’s important to work on understanding the how and why of each other’s operations.”

Key to the effort, military leaders said, is emphasizing, validating and improving agile combat employment, the principle of relying less on large, traditional bases and more on launching, recovering and maintaining aircraft from dispersed locations in cooperation with allies and partners. Drills took place on a chain of islands that stretch along the Philippine Sea’s eastern edge to form a line of defense for Pacific partners. “The training is focused on contested operations against a state actor and really upping the challenge,” U.S. Air Force Col. Jared Paslay, the Cope North 23 exercise director, told the Stars and Stripes newspaper. “This is probably the most aggressive and challenging Cope North I’ve seen.”

The HADR drills reinforced combined preparedness for catastrophic events. “We have many different focuses for the exercise, and crisis response is a major one,” said Graham. “Natural disasters happen every year, so it’s always good to work on our friendships and partnerships, knowing no matter what we’ll be there for one another.”

Established in 1978 as a quarterly bilateral training at Japan’s Misawa Air Base, Cope North moved to Andersen Air Force Base in 1999 and is PACAF’s largest multilateral exercise.



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