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Multinational exercise Cope Tiger 2009 kicks off

by Capt. Erika Yepsen
13th Air Expeditionary Wing-CT09 Public Affairs

3/10/2009 - KORAT, Thailand (AFNS) -- The first flights of Cope Tiger 2009 launched March 9, filling the sky above Thailand with fighter aircraft and signaling the 15th year of partnership between the United States, Thailand and Singapore militaries.

Cope Tiger is an annual, multilateral aerial exercise which divides Thai, Singaporean and U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft into two mixed groups, pitting them against each other in a mock battle.

"The first few days we start off with small numbers of aircraft against each other, like two versus two, then we build into mini-large force exercises with approximately 10 versus 20 aircraft," said Capt. Jeff Watts, officer in charge of the Live Fly Cell, deployed from the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan. "Then we'll get into the large force exercise where we'll have about 50 aircraft versus 15."

More than 1,200 U.S. servicemembers and 55 aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are participating in this year's exercise.

Along with their Thai and Singaporean counterparts, U.S. aircrews will conduct dissimilar basic fighter maneuvers training, dissimilar air combat tactics training, close-air-support training, tactical airdrop training and large force employment training at both Korat and Udon Thani Royal Thai air force bases.

"The sharing of culture and ideas was the keystone of the actual exercise," said Navy Lt. Tom Jillson, an F/A-18E pilot from Carrier Air Wing 5, Naval Air Facility-Atsugi in Japan, describing his experience in Cope Tiger 2007. "The Thais were great hosts. They were very happy to discuss flying, and you found out that, despite the language barrier, you're kind of the same."

The sharing of ideas and culture has also inspired Col. Robert Huston, a first-time Cope Tiger participant and commander of the 13th Air Expeditionary Wing-CT09.

"This exercise is a tremendous opportunity for us to interact and to learn about each other," said Colonel Huston. "We all do things a little differently, for reasons that work for our individual countries, but we also all have things we can learn from each other.

"I was already impressed by the very strong partnership our countries have, but here I've seen the relationship improve and grow. It's exciting because this good relationship has enabled us to expand the exercise this year, to include adding a Thai Army airborne operation out of a U.S. Air Force C-17 [Globemaster III]."

In addition to the flying portion of the exercise, Cope Tiger also includes a two-phase humanitarian and civic assistance portion. In the first phase, exercise participants will donate school supplies, sports equipment and other supplies to local schools.

During the second phase joint teams of medical, optometry and dental personnel from the U.S. Air Force, Royal Thai Air Force and Republic of Singapore Air Force will provide care to more than 2,000 Thai citizens.

The two-week exercise will conclude with a closing ceremony in Korat, Thailand, March 20.

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