PartnershipsSoutheast Asia

Multilateral Cobra Gold returns to Thailand with all-domain drills, humanitarian focus


More than 9,500 participants and observers from 30 nations joined forces in Thailand in February and March 2024 for exercise Cobra Gold, the largest post-pandemic edition of the annual security cooperation drills co-hosted by Thailand and the United States.

Cobra Gold kicks off in Thailand in late February 2024 with opening ceremonies, live-fire and medical evacuation training, and a school construction project.

“We have expanded the scope of military operations to address the full spectrum of threats across all domains,” Gen. Songwit Noonpackdee, the Royal Thai Armed Forces’ defense chief, said during opening ceremonies in Rayong, adding that the exercise enhances regional stability and promotes cooperation among Allies and Partners.

Multinational military personnel conducted exercises including amphibious landing and assault, combined arms live-fire, and noncombatant evacuation operations (NEO), as well as unit-level training across multiple provinces.

Cobra Gold participants conduct an amphibious assault exercise March 1, 2024, in Chonburi, Thailand.

A combined joint all-domain operation (CJADO) included more than 2,200 military personnel from the Republic of Korea (ROK) Marine Corps and Navy, the Royal Thai Air Force and Navy, and the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy. Troops staged nearly simultaneous amphibious and air assault drills, defeating a simulated blockade, conducting air and maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), rehearsing combined fires, and incorporating tactical communications from joint forces. The CJADO drill integrated airborne, special forces and maritime ISR, small-boat insertion by reconnaissance and special forces, medical evacuation, airfield seizure, critical infrastructure security, and logistical sustainment.

“I have been absolutely floored with the complexity of this exercise, the partnership of all the nations coming together,” U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Christopher Stone said. “It has really been impressive to see everybody working together for a common purpose.”

In addition to land, air and maritime drills, Cobra Gold included space and cyber exercises. Space domain drills simulated intelligence collection using satellites, the Nikkei Asia news magazine reported. Participants also rehearsed tracking and defending against cyberattacks.

“Partnership on cyber defense during Cobra Gold is an opportunity to tap into the most up-to-date cyber expertise and training to counter the growing sophistication of malicious cyber actors,” U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Robert Godec said. “Increasing our expertise in countering cyber threats helps us secure digital networks and protect our citizens.”

Cobra Gold’s focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) makes the exercise relevant to nontraditional security threats.

“Last April [2023], when widescale armed conflict broke out in Sudan, the Royal Thai Air Force [RTAF] utilized lessons learned from Cobra Gold [NEOs],” Godec said. “Three RTAF aircraft airlifted some 300 Thai citizens — including around 200 students studying there — to escape the violence. NEOs are a regular feature of Cobra Gold, where we share best practices to address security challenges.”

Stone said 2024 HADR drills included multinational participants simultaneously triaging casualties, conducting a water rescue, fighting fire and responding to a collapsing building. “It was truly impressive and absolutely seamless despite language barriers,” he said.

“It’s not just an exercise,” Stone said. “Those are the types of things that we do routinely. … Our task force participated with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and [U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship] USS America with providing relief [after] the volcanic eruption in Papua New Guinea last year. We have Marines supporting the Philippines right now with flood relief. So, to practice those types of things in this exercise will pay dividends for all of us in the times to come.”

As part of the exercise’s humanitarian focus, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, Royal Thai Navy, and U.S. Army and Marine Corps personnel constructed a building for the Ban Nong Yai School in Chachoengsao.

Thai and U.S. divers, meanwhile, salvaged the Royal Thai Navy corvette HTMS Sukhothai, which sank during a storm in the Gulf of Thailand in December 2022, leaving 24 crew members dead and five missing, according to Thai newspaper The Nation.

Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the ROK, Singapore, Thailand and the U.S. joined combat rehearsals and other drills during Cobra Gold. Australia, India and the People’s Republic of China participated in HADR drills. Personnel from 20 other countries also served, including as observers and planners. The exercise, which marked its 43rd iteration in 2024, is among the world’s longest-running multilateral military exercises and the largest in Southeast Asia.

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