Over the last year, the United States has been carrying out multiple exercises with partner nations in the Pacific. They’ve served two purposes, both for practical training and to send a regional security message to nations such as China and North Korea. The latest one, Cobra Gold 23, just wrapped up with thousands of troops taking part in jungle warfare and survival classes and massive combined forces live fire exercises.

Held in Thailand, the 42nd edition of Cobra Gold saw Thai forces, troops from South Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, plus 6,000 American troops, with representatives from multiple branches, including roughly 2,000 Marines. Cobra Gold 2023 started Feb. 27 and wrapped this past Friday, March 10.

“Cobra Gold 23 strengthens our ability to plan and conduct combined, joint, high-end security and peacekeeping operations across all domains,” Adm. Chris Aquilino, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said at the opening of the exercise.

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Friday’s closure wrapped up two weeks of both education moments and intense live fire training involving armor, artillery and plenty of aerial support. Cobra Gold 23 was filled with joint operations, covering land, air and sea. Members of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division did a joint assault drop onto a field with Thai troops. Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit led an amphibious landing onto Hat Yao beach along the Thai coast. And pilots flew F-16s and F-35s above the country.  

The exercise also featured heavier arms with live ammunition. Alongside M198 howitzers, there were also M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, which have proven to be devastatingly effective in conventional warfare in Ukraine against Russian forces.

US forces, allies, trained in the jungle and assaulted beaches in Thailand in a massive exercise
HIMARS fired in the closing exercise. (Photo courtesy U.S. Armed Forces)

Those HIMARS were part of the finale of the exercise, a combined arms live fire exercise that forces assault a position with armor, artillery and airborne units. 

Past versions of the exercise — which has been running for more than four decades — took the name somewhat literally, with many participants drinking actual cobra blood. That stopped in 2022 and did not resume this year. However, jungle survival remained a major component of this year’s Cobra Gold, with Royal Thai Marines teaching American forces the best ways to find water and food in thick jungle conditions. 

Cobra Gold 23 is one of several partner exercises the United States is participating in throughout Asia. Tomorrow, March 13, American and United Nations Command troops join South Korean forces for Freedom Shield 23, an 11-day event that is the biggest such exercise in five years. It also comes in the wake of renewed bomber flights over the country in a show of strength, following North Korean missile launches.

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