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Cobra Gold 19: USAF executes full-spectrum readiness exercise, advancing Indo-Pacific partnerships

A Royal Thai Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon taxis before take off for flying operations with the U.S. Air Force during Exercise Cobra Gold 2019 at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, Feb. 15, 2019. Cobra Gold is the largest Theater Security Cooperation exercise in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and is an integral part of the U.S. commitment to strengthen engagement in the region. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Valencia McNeal, U.S. Army-Pacific)

A Royal Thai Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon taxis before take off for flying operations with the U.S. Air Force during Exercise Cobra Gold 2019 at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, Feb. 15, 2019. Cobra Gold is the largest Theater Security Cooperation exercise in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and is an integral part of the U.S. commitment to strengthen engagement in the region. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Valencia McNeal, U.S. Army-Pacific)

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off prior to Exercise Cobra Gold 2019 at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, Feb. 11, 2019. Cobra Gold is the largest Theater Security Cooperation exercise in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and is an integral part of the U.S. commitment to strengthen engagement in the region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Savannah L. Waters)

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off prior to Exercise Cobra Gold 2019 at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, Feb. 11, 2019. Cobra Gold is the largest Theater Security Cooperation exercise in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and is an integral part of the U.S. commitment to strengthen engagement in the region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Savannah L. Waters)

KORAT, Thailand -- U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 8th Fighter Wing, based out of Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, participated in the 38th iteration of Exercise Cobra Gold 2019 with the Royal Thai Air Force's Wing 1, at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base from Feb. 12 to 23.

Hosted by the U.S. Armed Forces and Royal Thai Armed Forces, Cobra Gold 19 is comprised of multi-national, bi-lateral combined task force events designed to maintain readiness and increase combined-joint-force capabilities in planning and executing operations. Twenty-nine nations participated in varying capacities, making Cobra Gold one of the largest international exercises this year.

Approximately 200 Airmen from the 8th FW improved flying and maintenance operations with 12 USAF F-16 Fighting Falcons on Korat's flight line. These operations strengthened the U.S.-Thai partnership through combined training in the sky.

"The flying missions at Cobra Gold 19 ranged from air-to-air maneuvering to large-force-employment scenarios," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Oliver “Panton Lead” Lause, 35th Fighter Squadron commander. "We planned, briefed and debriefed with our RTAF partners on each of these sorties, with the bulk of execution being counter-air and close-air-support missions."

Large-force-employment scenarios consist of counter-air missions that aim to defend targets by maintaining air superiority. The complexity and tactics involved in these scenarios provided a premier opportunity for the USAF and RTAF to successfully communicate in the air while enhancing the lethality and survivability of pilots, said Lause.

While executing U.S. Indo-Pacific Command objectives and U.S. Pacific Air Forces priorities, maintainers from the 8th Maintenance Group safely deployed, operated and redeployed the Wolf Pack's F-16 Fighting Falcons loaded with full-scale-heavy-weight munitions, while improving readiness and interoperability with RTAF partners.

"Without U.S. aircraft maintenance support, the maintainers here learned to operate in conditions that are similar to a bare base," said Capt. Su Johnson, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Unit Officer in Charge. "Weapons, avionics, and other maintenance specialists assisted crew chiefs in launching aircraft by aiding as a 'B man,' and egress technicians supplemented crash and recovery teams to build F-16 tires."

Cross utilization of maintainers of different AFSCs and roles is a true embodiment of maintainers making the mission happen, Johnson said, and without the Wolf Pack maintainers’ pride and aggressive attitude to succeed, Exercise Cobra Gold would not have been as successful.

Cobra Gold 19 continues to represent a longstanding friendship between the USAF and RTAF, providing a venue for advancing interoperability, and maintaining readiness.

"Interoperability is critical to maintaining confidence in the strength of our partnership, and in the capabilities we each bring to the relationship," Lause said. "We’re enhancing that interoperability with the execution and discussion of our missions each day, building confidence in our ability to conduct full-spectrum coalition operations."

The support the 8th FW received from the RTAF and local community was nothing short of outstanding, Lause said, and the Wolf Pack is looking forward to the opportunity to return to Exercise Cobra Gold in the future.

"While improving readiness, our Airmen should be impressed by the performance and commitment of our partners to security and stability,” Lause said. “No one will leave an event like this doubting why allies and partners are our asymmetric advantage, and we’re humbled to share this terrain and the skies above once again.”