Finland, India and Saudi Arabia have joined the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) largest aerial training exercise, which boosts interoperability and helps to develop joint tactics in the air domain. The three newcomers are new partners in the RAF’s biannual Cobra Warrior exercise. This begs the question: what exactly has pushed the three into joining the exercise?

Exercise Cobra Warrior sees 70 aircraft training together in high intensity, large force, simulated complex tactical air warfighting operations for three weeks during March. The first iteration began 9 March and has concluded 24 March.

Pilots from the Finnish, Indian and Royal Saudi Air Forces are taking part this year for the first time. The Belgian and US Air Forces are returning, having joined previous Cobra Warrior exercises.

“Cobra Warrior is a fantastic opportunity for British pilots to exercise with our international partners, learning from each other and rehearsing operating together, as I’m sure our air forces will do many times over the coming decades,” the Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey stated.

The Indian Air Force deployed five Mirage 2000 aircraft to RAF Waddington. The Royal Saudi Air Force operated six Typhoons from RAF Coningsby.

Six F-16s of the Belgian Air Force and six F-18s from the Finnish Air Force operated from RAF Waddington.

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Squadron Leader John Mcfadden, the Officer Commanding 92 Squadron, that runs the exercise with the RAF’s Air and Space Warfare Centre, stated: “Our staff at 92 Sqn have developed a challenging Air-led multi-domain exercise focused on pitting our NATO, [Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF)] and International partners against a capable peer adversary within a challenging and complex environment,” he concluded.

Finland, India and Saudi Arabia

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been conducting a mission to expand its posture on the world stage for the past year. The Integrated Review 2021, and the latest 2023 Refresh, have affirmed this as the UK has been building relations, coaxing foreign industrial cooperation and enhancing joint military capabilities with partners.

Cobra Warrior 2023 comes as a part of the latter, of course, but the increased attendance marks Britain’s efforts in the former two. With Finland joining as part of the wider UK-led JEF training activity, largely in the High North; India pushed to join over its concern over People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) expansion; and Saudi Arabia as part of Global Britain’s partner outreach.

As the world stumbles toward further hostility on the world stage, and the UK government employ a carrot-and-stick doctrine – where they deter Russia and the PRC while feeding partners with joint enterprises and dialogue – events like Cobra Warrior exercise readiness and a greater sense of cohesion come what may.