Cope Tiger Exercise Ends in Thailand

Two weeks of flying, mission planning, community events and relationship building have concluded, marking the close of Cope Tiger 2024.

Units from the United States, the Kingdom of Thailand, and the Republic of Singapore air force participated in the 28th iteration of the exercise, marking the 30th Anniversary of the first iteration. Cope Tiger is an annual trilateral aerial exercise meant to enhance readiness and further develop interoperability.

"The theme for this year was 'friendship through the skies,' but as we've just completed our 28th Cope Tiger with the most capable force our three nations have ever assembled, I want to recognize and acknowledge that our relationship is deeper than that," said U.S. Air Force Col. Michael McCarthy, Cope Tiger exercise director. "We are brothers and sisters in arms who stand ready to defend our nations and our freedom together, and I'm proud to be by your side."

This year marked the first time 5th generation aircraft participated in the exercise-F-35A Lightning IIs from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, joined F-16C Fighting Falcons from Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea.

"This is the first time the F-35s have operated out of Korat, and this was a great exercise to practice complex large force engagements with both the RTAF and RSAF," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Worrell, 356th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander. "We brought the F-35 to Thailand to train with our allies and partners, and I was impressed with the skill and professionalism of the Thai and Singaporean air forces. Each time we flew, everyone improved and applied lessons from previous days."

Over the course of the exercise, sorties were flown, flight hours were accumulated, and a priceless number of relationships were forged. Whether it was up in the cockpit of the numerous types of aircraft or on the ground sharing stories about maintenance, our Airmen were able to break through language barriers and build solid foundations of friendships that will continue to be fostered for years to come.

"I was able to work with the RTAF maintainers to find out we use the same test equipment, and we were able to communicate with the tools we had," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Merrick Schofield, 80th Fighter Generation Squadron avionics journeyman. "It just goes to show that we don't have to speak the same language to get the mission done."

Thailand is the United States' oldest ally in Asia, going on 191 years since the two countries established formal diplomatic relations, resulting in almost two centuries of friendship between the two nations.

For more than 50 years, the United States and Singapore have forged an expansive and enduring relationship based on mutual economic interests, robust security and defense cooperation, and enduring people-to-people ties.

"As a maintainer, sometimes it's hard for us to see the bigger picture, and being out here building relationships really puts into perspective how important every piece is," Schofield said. "A lot of people forget their 'why,' and being out here making friends from other countries and understanding their culture helps me remember my 'why.'"

This year, the U.S. came as a Total Force package, with the Washington Air National Guard, KC-135 Stratotankers participating. Flying nine missions, they were there to assist in refueling operations with our allies and partners, offloading 225.9 thousand pounds of fuel to 69 receivers from all three nations' aircraft.

The Washington Air National Guard is the State Partner of the Kingdom of Thailand through the State Partnership Program, or SPP. The SPP links a unique component of the Department of Defense - a state's National Guard - with the armed forces or equivalent of a partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.

Through the SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic, and social spheres.

During the exercise, many Airmen had the chance to go to a local school to play games with students while medical professionals from the Royal Thai air force and the Republic of Singapore air force rendered care to locals with support from the U.S. Air Force medical team.

"Joint health initiatives are so important," said Lt. Col. Kendall Vermilion, 35th Fighter Squadron flight surgeon. "These events foster a sense of unity and cohesion, demonstrating a collective commitment to health and wellness, and play a critical role in building partnerships amongst our military communities."

Being strongly united demonstrates our commitment to regional security. We stand with our allies and partners in upholding the rules-based international order.

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