A Philippine Navy helicopter lands aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) in the Sulu Sea during the at-sea phase of CARAT Philippines. (U.S. Navy/MC2 Joe Bishop)

PUERTO PRINCESA, Republic of the Philippines - The U.S. and Republic of the Philippines enhanced partnerships during the 21st annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Philippines 2015 which concluded 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 Armed Forces of the Philippines (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 Philippine 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, Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1, as well as staff from commander, Task Force 73, DESRON 7 and the 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 ranging from diving and salvage, explosive ordnance disposal, military police policy and procedures, and coastal riverine patrols. Civil action projects, community service events and band 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, CTF 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.

See photos from the exercise in the U.S. Pacific Fleet Flickr stream.