SOUTH CHINA SEA (June 22, 2011) Philippine Navy commandos board USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) during a Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) exercise in support of Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) 2011. SEACAT is a series of VBSS training exercises held annually in Southeast Asia to enhance relationships and adapt to evolving maritime threats. (The U.S. and Philippine navies will conduct similar training during exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT). (U.S. Navy photo by Navy Diver 3rd Class Ralph Riess)

PUERTO PRINCESSA, Philippines — Three U.S. Navy ships will arrive in Puerto Princessa’s port June 28 to launch the 17th Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Philippines.

The guided-missile destroyers USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93), USS Howard (DDG 83) and the diving and salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) are the U.S. Navy’s centerpieces for the exercise, which features 11 days of training exchanges with the Philippine Navy, both ashore and at sea.

This year marks the second time in recent years that CARAT has been held in Palawan. The exercise was held in Puerto Princessa in 2008; in 2009, the exercise was held in Cebu, and in 2010 at Subic Bay.

Ashore training includes such specialties as visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) exercises; diver training; salvage operations; joint medical, dental and civic action projects, and aircrew familiarization exchanges. Additionally, there will be symposia on operations planning, search and rescue practices, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, interagency cooperation and public affairs.

The at-sea phase of CARAT focuses on developing maritime security capabilities in areas such as maritime interdiction, information sharing, and combined operations at sea, patrol operations and gunnery exercises, plus anti-piracy and anti-smuggling exercises.

“The U.S. and Philippine navies have a long history of working together, and exercises like CARAT provide a great venue for us to hone our skills and increase our interoperability,” said Capt. David Welch, commander of Task Group 73.1 and the commander for the exercise.

Approximately 800 U.S. Navy personnel are participating in CARAT Philippines 2011. In addition to the three ships, other participants include U.S. Navy Seabees, A U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team (MSST), U.S. Navy Mobile Security Squadron, U.S. Navy Riverine Forces, Medical Support personnel, and P-3C Orion and SH-60 Seahawk aircraft.

CARAT is a series of bilateral military exercises between the U.S. Navy and the Armed Forces of Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Additionally, Vietnam participates in a CARAT-like event known as Naval Exchange Activity (NEA).