In the South China Sea the U.S. military and Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) are partnering in the 26th annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) maritime exercise which began on Monday, off the coast of Brunei.
This is the 26th anniversary of Exercise CARAT Brunei and is the first CARAT to take place this year. It symbolizes the longstanding U.S.-Brunei maritime partnership.
The CARAT exercise expands bilateral and multilateral exercises; ensuring maritime security, stability, and prosperity. It also highlights the United States’ commitment to the region and to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
“Beginning the 26th iteration of CARAT with our Brunei partners is a superb way for us to build on our interoperability and readiness, as we work together to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific. Even though we cannot meet face-to-face this year, this does not affect our strong partnership. Meeting both virtually and at sea to exchange Navy and Marine Corps skills with our Brunei partners helps us build relationships so that we can communicate and operate together in good times, as well as challenging ones,” said Rear Adm. Fred Kacher, Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7.
The exercise events were planned virtually and will be conducted with COVID-19 mitigation measures in place. By using integrated technology for virtual content generation and collaboration, it resulted in a successful planning of a multi-event exercise, with no face-to-face planning required.
Historically, CARAT exercises involve people-to-people interactions and relationships through a variety of professional exchanges and symposia, subject matter expert exchanges (SMEEs), and social events.
This year, in order to mitigate risk due to the Coronavirus, the SMEEs will take place online. They will be using both real-time virtual meetings and pre-recorded webinars, for U.S. and Brunei to share best practices. It is still an excellent opportunity to safely exercise with our partners in the region in a COVID-constrained environment.
RBAF Joint Forces Headquarters Chief of Staff, Lt. Col. Saifulrizal Bin Abdul Latif, highlighted the first Special Operations Force SMEE milestone during this year’s CARAT. He stressed the importance of continued partnership between the two countries.
“In light of these extraordinary circumstances, I hope that it neither changes nor dampen the spirit of cooperation between our two forces. It would be of great value to know that despite the difficulties we may face on the 26th iteration of CARAT, we would still be able to achieve its objectives and further enhance our abilities to operate together in response to traditional and non-traditional maritime security challenges in the Indo-Pacific Region,” said Saifulrizal.
The virtual SMEE events are featuring a variety of joint training opportunities, to include vessel interdiction and boarding training, U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) and Royal Brunei Land Force (RBLF) cooperation.
They will also cover Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) training, riverine security training, replenishment at sea (RAS) best practices, Women Peace & Security symposium, and more.
Additional virtual exchanges will include maritime domain awareness (MDA), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and anti-terrorism force protection, among other topics.
The at-sea phase will take place in the South China Sea with ships and aircraft from both partner militaries, with events designed to enhance interoperability between the two militaries.
During the sea-phase of the exercise, both countries will demonstrate their ability to work together through numerous events. This includes divisional tactics designed to enhance communication as ships sail together in complex maneuvers, a tracking exercise aimed at increasing both navies’ ability to track and pursue targets through the coordinated deployment of surface ships and maritime patrol aircrafts, and search and rescue exercises.
During the virtual opening ceremony, Capt. Ann McCann, Commodore, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, emphasized that the foundation of U.S.-Brunei cooperation and training rests in friendships made during the time the two nations spend together.
“While 2020 has been a unique year, it has not deterred the opportunity for us to come together during our CARAT events. I look forward for our forces to do what they have always done so well – strengthen bonds and exchange military best practices,” McCann said.
During the exercise, aviation exercises will focus on MDA, search and rescue, UAV, and interoperability, with participating units from RBAF and a U.S. P-8A Poseidon from Patrol Squadron (VP) 1.
“The crew of VP 1, Combat Aircrew-10 are looking forward to professional discussions with our Royal Brunei Armed Force partners, to strengthen our friendships and exchange both aviation and maritime best practices between our nations. Training together and improving our interoperability skills is a unique opportunity, and the U.S. Navy Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force takes pride in enhancing our partnerships within the region,” said Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Brass, detachment officer in charge.
CARAT is the U.S. Navy’s oldest and longest continually running regional exercise in South and Southeast Asia. It strengthens partnerships between regional navies and enhances maritime security cooperation and interoperability throughout the Indo-Pacific.
It also builds on other engagements in the region, including Pacific Partnership, Maritime Training Activity, and Pacific Griffin. These engagements bring like-minded naval forces together, routinely based on shared values and maritime security interests.
The U.S. assets participating in CARAT Brunei include staff from Commander Task Force (CTF) 72, CTF 73, CTF 75, CTF 76, DESRON 7, EOD Mobile Unit Five, USMC III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), Special Operations Command Pacific, the U.S. 7th Fleet Band and a P-8 Poseidon aircraft. Afloat units include the Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport USNS Millinocket (T-EPF 3).
Advance planning and organization of resources are conducted by the Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force 76 and DESRON 7. They directly support the execution of CARAT and other engagements, on behalf of the U.S. 7th Fleet, in support of theater security cooperation in South and Southeast Asia.
U.S. 7th Fleet conducts forward-deployed naval operations in support of U.S. national interests in the Indo-Pacific area of operations. As the U.S. Navy’s largest numbered fleet, 7th Fleet interacts with 35 other maritime nations to build partnerships that foster maritime security, promote stability, and ultimately prevent conflict.