China and the U.S. are expanding their satellite and cyber security, with the U.S. training Thailand's military in "Space Situational Awareness" for the first time.

Photo copyright Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Washington has expanded into Bangkok's satellite and cyber security, with the U.S. training Thailand's military in "Space Situational Awareness" for the first time during the recently completed Cobra Gold wargames.

China's Huawei meanwhile has partnered with Thailand's National Cyber Security Agency (NCSA), which is responsible for combatting "cyber threats" to this Southeast Asian nation's critical infrastructure and other vulnerable targets.

Cobra Gold is Asia's biggest annual U.S. multinational military exercise and includes training in warfighting skills, weaponry, survival, and other exercises on Thai territory, in the air, and in the Gulf of Thailand.

Almost 10,000 troops, mostly from the U.S. and Thailand, joined forces from about 30 countries on February 27-March 10 to participate.

This year's core war teams included the U.S., Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, and Indonesia.

China was allowed to perform Cobra Gold's humanitarian aid missions alongside Australia and India.

Thailand's recently retired Chief of Defense Forces, Gen. Chalermpol Srisawat, enabled "the integration of Cyber Security and Space Situational Awareness into the [Cobra Gold] exercise," an Indo-Pacific Command (PACOM) statement said.

Space Situational Awareness (SSA) includes monitoring objects in space and predicting their movements so collisions, attacks, and other dangers are prevented.

The U.S. Defense Department uses that power to potentially defend and attack in space, and position, repair, and retrieve satellites and other objects.

The Commerce Department meanwhile shares SSA data with commercial firms who need to protect their telecommunications and other satellites.

U.S. Space Command said it was developing and countering satellites which can extend robotic arms to capture rival satellites, zap space objects with lasers, and disperse attacks by unleashing an overwhelming number of decoy drones and mock satellites to baffle opponents.

"The Chinese have tested the robotic arm and demonstrated it can move a defunct satellite in and out of geosynchronous or GEO orbit, according to Army Gen. James Dickinson, head of U.S. Space Command," NBC reported.

“They were actually able to...take that satellite out past the GEO orbit, drop it off, and return back to the GEO orbit, and did that in a very short period of time, only a few days,” Gen. Dickinson said in November at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

NBC said defense officials in December were aware that "in recent weeks, China successfully tested the equivalent of a refueling tanker for satellites, a game-changing innovation that would enable Beijing to extend the life of satellites that would otherwise expire after running out of fuel.

"If a war broke out between the U.S. and China, it would likely start in space, experts say," NBC reported.

PACOM Commander Adm. John Aquilino awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit Medal, Commander Degree, to Gen. Chalermpol in Bangkok on Jan. 18 for his collaboration with the Pentagon expanding Cobra Gold.

Cobra Gold 2024 also updated its previous cyber security and warfare lessons to reflect new developments in malware, viruses, hacking, and other international online problems.

Last year's Cobra Gold in Thailand, a U.S. non-NATO ally, included an introductory "cyber exercise for a combined space forces coordination center," the U.S. Army's website reported.

"Participants broke into teams by country, and prepared to defend cyber assets through the assessment of threats, the development and implementation of incident response plans, and the sharing of knowledge between teams," it said.

Those preliminary exercises began in 2023, "the inaugural year integrating the space domain into Cobra Gold," the Army's site said.

"The activities increased our shared understanding of what constitutes safe and responsible space activities, and how to contribute to a more stable space environment by reducing the risk of miscalculation," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Chad Briggs, space exercise coordinator and commander of Hawaii Air National Guard Detachment 1.

Cobra Gold 2023 teams suggested increasing cooperation among the Space Operations Centers in the U.S., Japan, and Thailand.

In December, China's Huawei Technology -- Washington's rival in a cold cyber war of suspicion and sanctions -- partnered with Thailand's National Cyber Security Agency (NCSA) and won the Prime Minister Awards: Thailand Cybersecurity Excellence Award 2023.

"As partners, the NCSA and Huawei Thailand agree that we need to...achieve those goals which will result in an even stronger cybersecurity standard for the country, and more digital talents to serve the demands from the industrial side," NCSA Secretary-General Air Vice Marshall Amorn Chomchoey said at the event.

"That is why the NCSA is partnering with Huawei to elevate the cybersecurity standards across every sector of Thailand," Air Vice Marshall Amorn said.

The NCSA was set up five years ago to focus on "cybersecurity attacks such a denial of service and ransomware, online fraud, and cyber wellness, meaning how to identify misinformation," AVM Amorn said.

The Bangkok Post reported: "This recognition truly reflects Huawei's efforts to drive the nation's digital ecosystem to fully connect everyone, every household, and every organization with intelligent technology to support Thailand's digital sustainable future."

In 2022, NCSA's then-Secretary-General Gen. Prachya Chalmwa said, "Our collaboration with Huawei Thailand, a public-private partnership, is critical in order to establish a globally trusted cyberspace in the country.

Huawei's telecommunications in Thailand includes 5G-capable technology, artificial intelligence (A.I.), and cloud computing.

Huawei, the NCSA, and Thailand's Digital Skill Development Academy recently launched Cloud Security Training Course 2024 to train Thais, said Huawei Thailand's director Edison Xu.

China meanwhile is teaching Thailand about space technology and satellites.

Thailand is a member of the Beijing-based Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO), founded in 2008, along with Bangladesh, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru, and Turkey.

The group says it shares space science, technology, and applications including projects on lunar research, satellite construction, launching, remote-sensing, and telecommunications.

APSCO held an "expert group meeting" for members in Bangkok Dec. 11-15 to discuss various research including Thailand's focus on the Mekong River and an "estimation of sediment transportation in the major river using remote sensing techniques," APSCO said.

China also wants Thailand and other APSCO members to develop satellites.

"The APSCO joint Small Multi-Mission Satellites (SMMS) Constellation consists of three in-orbit remote sensing satellites provided by China, and eight new satellites which are planned to be jointly developed by all member states," it said.

"By connecting all ground stations in participating countries, the system's efficiency and benefits will be extremely multiplied," APSCO said.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based American foreign correspondent reporting from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondents' Award. Excerpts from his two new nonfiction books, "Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. -- Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York" and "Apocalyptic Tribes, Smugglers & Freaks" are available at