Joint live-fire drill closes out Cobra Gold exercise in Thailand

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Lop Buri, Thailand
Joint live-fire drill closes out Cobra Gold exercise in Thailand A U.S. AH-64 Apache attack helicopter swoops in during a live-fire drill at the conclusion of the Cobra Gold exercise in Lop Buri province, Thailand, March 10, 2023.
Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews

To the sounds of exploding bombs and crackle of gunfire, more than 600 U.S., Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean troops took part Friday in a live-ammunition drill as the Cobra Gold 2023 joint exercises wrapped up in Thailand.  

The drill in Lop Buri province capped off the two-week program of joint exercises that brought together nearly 10,000 military personnel and representatives from 28 countries, including rival superpowers China and the U.S.

Gen. Chalermphon Srisawasdi, the Thai Armed Forces chief, and Maj.-Gen. Stephen G. Smith, commander of the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division, “presided over the Cobra Gold 2023 closing ceremony at the Artillery Center, Phatthana Nikhom district, Lopburi province and observed the Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise (CALFEX),” according to a joint statement.

About 6,000 troops from the U.S. – the largest contingent in a decade – participated in the 42nd iteration of Cobra Gold, the Indo-Pacific region’s largest combined military exercise, amid growing rivalry between Beijing and Washington. 

China sent 21 troops but they did not take part in combat drills. The Chinese personnel joined troops from India and Australia in performing humanitarian projects such as constructing multi-purpose buildings for schools and disaster relief training, officials said.

Thai soldiers stand by to greet their superiors as the Cobra Gold 2023 exercise comes to a close in Lop Buri, Thailand, March 10, 2023. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]

The exercises had been scaled down over the previous three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, the U.S. sent less than 1,300 troops to the exercises, which drew a total of less than 3,500 participants.

During the final drill on Friday morning, Thai and U.S. armored fighting vehicles fired at simulated targets in a training ground. In addition, the live-fire exercise featured fly-by maneuvers by F-16 fighter-jets, Apache helicopters, as well as the firing of howitzer field guns. The drill also included high-altitude high-opening (HAHO) parachute drops, officials said.

This year’s edition of Cobra Gold began on Feb. 28 with various drills staged in Lop Buri, Chanthaburi, Sa Kaeo and Rayong provinces.

“The exercise allows for the exchange of military know-how, doctrine, and technology, and has broadened the experience of Thai and allied forces in joint and multilateral operations,” according to the joint statement issued on Friday. 

“This reflects our commitment to elevating cooperation and our relationships with participating nations to safeguard the stability and mutual interests of the region.”

However at the start of the exercise, an American Army officer, Major Andrew Cotter, died of what appeared to be natural causes.

Cotter, an operations officer for 17th Field Artillery “Thunderbolt” Brigade, I Corps, stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, was found unresponsive on a bathroom floor in Thailand on Feb. 28 while on temporary duty for the Cobra Gold exercise, U.S. military officials said.


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