The Navy’s two Amphibious Ready Groups (ARG) deployed in the Indo-Pacific – the Makin Island ARG and the America ARG – will participate in major exercises in Thailand and Japan on Monday with the multinational Cobra Gold 2023 exercise in Thailand and the bilateral Iron Fist 23 exercise in Japan.
Amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) with embarked elements of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is currently already operating in the Gulf of Thailand ahead of the exercise, which takes place officially from Monday until March 10, in the Thai provinces of Lop Buri, Chanthaburi, Sa Kaeo and Rayong. The activities related to the civic action programs and Humanitarian And Disaster Relief (HADR) portion of the exercise has already begun.
There are about 7,394 personnel from 30 countries participating, with the U.S. contributing 3, 800 personnel and host Thailand fielding 3,000 personnel.
The actual number of U.S. personnel could reach up to 6,000 if personnel on U.S. ships take part in the exercise, Col. Kurt Leffler, senior defense official and Defense Attaché to the Kingdom of Thailand and the chief of Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) – Thailand, said during a Feb. 14 pre-exercise press conference in Thailand, according to the Bangkok Post.
The bulk of U.S ground forces in Cobra Gold are drawn from the Army’s 7th Infantry Division and 25th Combat Aviation Brigade though the 13th MEU will carry out the amphibious assault phase of Cobra Gold. The Makin Island ARG consists of Makin Island along with amphibious transport docks USS Anchorage (LPD-23) and USS John P. Murtha (LPD-26), though it is not clear whether these two ships and their embarked 13th MEU complement will join Cobra Gold.
Thailand will be deploying naval vessels for the exercise, but it has not stated which ships will participate.
The Republic of Korea announced that landing ship tank ROKS Ilchulbong (688) is taking part in Cobra Gold with 420 navy and marine corps personnel and an embarked vehicle complement of six Korean Assault Amphibious Vehicles (a ROK produced variant of the AAV-7A1), two K808 wheeled armored vehicles, two K55A1 self-propelled howitzers and one K77 fire command armored vehicle.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s Cobra Gold only featured around 3,500 personnel with the U.S contributing 1,300 troops. This year, Thailand, the US, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and Malaysia will be participating in the main combat planning and field exercises along with the Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) exercise, while China, India and Australia will only be doing the HADR exercise. China’s PLA Daily reported that the country sent 25 personnel to the exercise. Ten countries – Cambodia, Laos, Brazil, Pakistan, Vietnam, Germany, Sweden, Greece, Kuwait and Sri Lanka – will join as observers.
The America ARG will conduct exercises with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) starting Monday, according to a Thursday JMSDF release.
Amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6), amphibious transport dock USS Green Bay (LPD-20) and dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD-48) will work with Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) landing ship tank LST JS Osumi (LST-4001) and minesweepers JS Hirashima (MSC-601) and JS Yakushima (MSC-602). The cooperative drills will take place in Hiroshima Bay and from West of Kyushu to around Okinawa until March 12.
Though not stated in the release, the drills are part of the ongoing Iron Fist 23 exercise between the Marine Corps and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF), which also ends on March 12. This is the first time the exercise serial has been held in Japan since it began in 2006.
JGSDF forces taking part in the exercise will be the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB), 1st Airborne Brigade, and 1st Helicopter Brigade, along with the Western Army Aviation Unit while the Marine Corps is represented by the 31st MEU.
Carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) arrived in Guam Sunday for a port visit, according to a social media post by Naval Base Guam prior to the carrier’s arrival. Nimitz together with destroyers USS Decatur (DDG-73) and USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG-108) conducted tactical drills on Feb. 22 with JMSDF destroyers JS Asagiri (DD-151) and JS Shimakaze (DD-172) in the waters around the island, according to a Friday JMSDF release.