Participants from the seven nations taking part in SEACAT 2015 work together at the Changi Command and Control Centre, Oct. 5. (Photo courtesy of the Singapore Ministry of Defence)

SINGAPORE - The 14th annual Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) exercise commenced at the Republic of Singapore Navy's Multinational Operations and Exercises Centre (MOEC) Oct. 5.

SEACAT focuses on regional cooperation to address shared maritime security challenges like smuggling, piracy and other illicit activities at sea, by bringing together liaison officers (LNOs) from Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States to collaborate and execute practical maritime responses to multiple realistic scenarios.

"SEACAT is a great venue for multiple nations to come together in a realistic training environment and work through a number of real-world maritime security challenges," said Rear Adm. Charlie Williams, Commander, Task Force 73. "This multilateral cooperation enhances readiness so we can better coordinate our response during contingencies and crises."

During the five-day command post exercise liaison officers will receive simulated reports of suspect vessels in the Straits of Singapore and Malacca, the Andaman Sea or the South China Sea. After sharing information from all available sources, such as Singapore's Information Fusion Centre, Malaysia's International Maritime Bureau, or the Philippines' Coast Watch System, the LNOs will develop and implement response plans during a concurrent field training exercise. Based on the situation, aircraft and ships from participating navies will investigate and conduct on scene boardings as necessary.

SEACAT 2015 continues the trend of increasing complexity into the exercise, as representatives from the Bangladesh Navy will observe the exercise from Singapore.

Also participating in SEACAT for the first time is the joint high-speed vessel USNS Millinocket, which was redesignated by Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus as an Expeditionary Fast Transport (T-EPF). EPFs are part of the new Expeditionary Support-class of ships that SECNAV recently announced.

SEACAT, which began in 2002 under the name "Southeast Asia Cooperation Against Terrorism," was renamed in 2012 to expand the scope of training among regional navies and coast guards.

"Exercises like SEACAT contribute to regional maritime security by expanding capacity and enhancing multilateral cooperation addressing shared concerns," said Capt. H.B. Le, commodore Destroyer Squadron 7. "Whether the problem is piracy, smuggling, or other illicit activities at sea, responding to these challenges requires effective communication and coordination, which is developed by working together through realistic training."

U.S. units also participating in the exercise include staff from Commander, Task Force 73, Destroyer Squadron 7, the Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship USNS Amelia Earhart (T-AKE-6), the Safeguard-class rescue and salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS-50), a P-8A Poseidon and a P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

Commander, Task Force 73 and Destroyer Squadron 7 staff conduct advanced planning, organize resources and directly support the execution of maritime exercises such as SEACAT, the bilateral Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise series, and the Naval Engagement Activity (NEA) with Vietnam.

In this file photo, Indonesian Navy sailors conduct a simulated boarding inspection of USNS Rappanhannock (T-AO-204) in South China Sea as part of SEACAT in 2014. (U.S. Navy/Lt. Kenny Zilka)