By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel James Lewis, Naval Reserve, Navy Public Support Element West
PUERTO PRINCESA, Republic of the Philippines (NNS) -- Members of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, along with their Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) counterparts, completed the 21st annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Philippines exercise series, in Puerto Princesa, June 26.
"The exercise this week with our Philippine Navy counterparts reflects more than two decades of increasingly sophisticated training," said Capt. Fred Kacher, commodore, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7. "The underway phase in particular was a huge success and it's clear to me that we have taken lessons learned from past CARATs to increase the complexity of this year's exercise."
The AFP have participated in CARAT since the exercise series began in 1995.
"I am indeed very happy to note that CARAT 2015 has been the manifestation of more than 20 years of training ashore, at sea, and in the air," said Republic of the Philippines (ROP) Navy Vice Adm. Alexander Lopez, commander, Western Command. "The training activity each year comes with more and more sophistication, especially with the participation of the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth."
This year's exercise marked the first time a littoral combat ship participated in CARAT Philippines. While underway in the Sulu Sea, USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) spent two days conducting a number of complex maneuvers and drills with Philippine Navy ships BRP Ramon Alcarez (PF 16) and BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF 15).
"We're very excited about the capabilities the littoral combat ship brings to the region," said Kacher. "LCS is a wonderful fit for Southeast Asia, and the ship is the future face of CARAT and U.S. Navy engagement in the region."
More than 300 Sailors and Marines participated in CARAT Philippines 2015. Participating units included Fort Worth, rescue and salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS-50), one forward-deployed P-3C Orion aircraft, Coastal Riverine Group (CRG) 1, Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5, and Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1, as well as staff from commander, Task Force 73, DESRON 7 and the U.S. 7th Fleet Band "Orient Express."
In addition to the sea phase, Sailors and Marines engaged with their AFP counterparts during multiple professional exchanges and seminars ashore, including diving and salvage, explosive ordnance disposal, military police policy and procedures, and coastal riverine patrols. Civil action projects, community service events and concerts were also held throughout the Puerto Princesa community.
CARAT Philippines is part of a broader bilateral exercise series the U.S. Navy conducts with nine partner navies in South and Southeast Asia to address shared maritime security priorities, strengthen maritime partnerships, and enhance interoperability among participating forces.
The exercise series promotes regional maritime cooperation with many participating navies. CARAT Philippines kicked off the 2015 series, with an additional eight exercises to be held in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia and Timor-Leste throughout 2015.
As U.S. 7th Fleet's executive agent for theater security cooperation in South and Southeast Asia, Commander, Task Force 73 conducts advanced planning, organizes resources and directly supports the execution of maritime exercises, such as the bilateral series CARAT with Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste; the Naval Engagement Activity (NEA) with Vietnam and the multi-lateral Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.