Exercise Cobra Gold 2020 held its closing ceremony and culminating combined arms live-fire exercise March 6, 2020, successfully concluding the 39th integration of the largest combined military exercise in the Indo-Pacific region. This year the exercise included a brand new participant: the F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft.
The F-35s, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, made their first appearance during the Thai-U.S. Amphibious Exercise at Hat Yao Beach, Chonburi Province, February 28, 2020. During the initial phases of the beach seizure, two F-35s provided coverage of the landing craft and aerial assault aircraft, prior to providing a show of force across the beach in support of the landing force.
At Ban Dan Lan Hoi training area in Sukhothai Province, the F-35, launching from the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), provided support to the Thai-U.S. Fire Support Coordination Exercise throughout the week, providing close air support with GBU-12 500 lb. laser-guided bombs. During this and other live-fire evolutions, four GBU-12s were expended at night for the first time ever, with the coordination of fires being provided by both Thai and U.S. Joint Terminal Attack Controllers.
In addition to the Thai-U.S. coordination during close air support drills, F-35s also supported five air to air events with both Thai F-16s and U.S. aircraft performing simulated aerial combat. Three of these events were large force exercises (LFEs) with 14 or more aircraft participating in the fight.
According to Maj. Casey Jenkins, the 31st MEU’s F-35 Detachment officer-in-charge, the chance to integrate with Thai partners was the most valuable takeaway from the F-35’s first appearance in Thailand.
“The integration with Thai air traffic controllers and tactical controllers has been hugely beneficial and this entire exercise greatly increased the F-35 detachment’s long range mission planning and employment skills. The F-35 detachment received invaluable training by being able to participate in Cobra Gold 20.”
Exercise Cobra Gold demonstrates the commitment of the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States to our long- standing alliance, promotes regional partnerships and advances security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.