Rear Adm. Charlie Williams, commander, Task Force 73, addresses U.S. and Singapore Armed Forces personnel during the exercise CARAT opening ceremony. (U.S. Navy/MC1 Jay Pugh)

SINGAPORE - The 21st annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Singapore exercise commenced July 13 at Changi Naval Base, with an opening ceremony and a host of bilateral exchanges.

CARAT Singapore is part of a series of bilateral naval exercises between the U.S. Navy and the armed forces of nine partner nations in South and Southeast Asia. The exercises provide a regional venue to develop strong maritime partnerships that contribute to the greater peace and stability of the region.

"This marks the 21st year that the U.S. and Singapore armed forces have come together for CARAT, and our enhanced military partnership today reflects the maturity of this relationship," said Rear Adm. Charlie Williams, commander, Task Force 73. "CARAT Singapore provides our forces with a complex and dynamic training environment that continues to increase our combined capabilities."

CARAT Singapore 2015 will feature robust shore and sea phases that span across the spectrum of naval operations. The sea phase will consist of complex scenarios with ships, submarines and aircraft, and will culminate in a combined torpedo exercise. The exercise will conclude on July 24.

"Exercise CARAT has, over the years, provided both navies with invaluable training, and enabled interoperability," said Rear Adm. Lew Chuen Hong, fleet commander, Republic of Singapore Navy. "I believe that our close friendship and deep mutual understanding form the basis of trust."

During the shore phase, professional symposia and subject matter expert exchanges will allow U.S. and Singaporean participants to share best practices and enhance cooperation. Classroom and field training events will cover operational planning; an aviation symposium; visit, board, search, and seizure drills; submariner classroom exchanges; military medicine classes; and military law enforcement training.

More than 700 U.S. Sailors and Marines will participate in CARAT Singapore 2015. Participating U.S. assets include the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82), the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Houston (SSN 713), the Military Sealift Command Henry J. Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler USNS Pecos (T-AO 197), a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, a Navy Riverine squadron, and U.S. Marine Corps military police.

CARAT Singapore will also feature, for the first time, the utilization of the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, currently embarked aboard USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) as part of the composite helicopter detachment, as well as the Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle from the Republic of Singapore Navy.

According to Cmdr. Robert Francis, Lassen's commanding officer, for participating U.S. ships, CARAT Singapore provides an invaluable opportunity to conduct sophisticated training scenarios with a capable partner navy.

"CARAT Singapore provides USS Lassen and her crew with a great opportunity to operate alongside a partner navy in Southeast Asia in a complex and challenging training environment," he added. "By operating closely together, we learn from each other, and enhance our interoperability."

Following CARAT Singapore, additional bilateral phases of CARAT will occur from July through November 2015, with Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

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 CARAT series, the Naval Engagement Activity with Vietnam, and the multi-lateral Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) operates in the South China Sea last week ahead of exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training in Singapore. (U.S. Navy/MC2 Joe Bishop)