In this file photo, USS Stethem (DDG 63) and ships from the Royal Thai Navy break formation following a maneuvering exercise during CARAT Thailand 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Carl King Jr.)

SATTAHIP, Thailand - The 23rd annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise series commenced in Sattahip, Thailand, May 29, between the Royal Thai Navy and the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

As the premier naval engagement in South and Southeast Asia, CARAT provides a regional venue to address shared maritime security priorities, enhance interoperability among participating forces, and develop sustained naval partnerships with nations across South and Southeast Asia. The Royal Thai Navy has been a participant in the CARAT series since the exercises began in 1995.

"Our engagement through CARAT provides the U.S. and Thailand an opportunity to strengthen our alliance and maritime partnership in very meaningful ways," said Rear Adm. Don Gabrielson, commander, Task Force 73. "The complexity of the training and the diverse cadre of Sailors and Marines allow us to deepen relationships at all levels and create bonds of trust that span generations within our forces."

CARAT Thailand 2017 consists of eight days of shore-based and at-sea training events in multiple warfare areas. The exercise features a robust sea phase with surface warfare maneuvering tactics, small-boat operations, manned and unmanned helicopter flight operations, communication exercises and more.

“We have another complex exercise planned this year, and I think that speaks to the strength of our partnership developed through many years of executing CARAT events together,” said Capt. Alexis Walker, deputy commodore, Destroyer Squadron 7.” Each year our planners continue to push the envelope and develop more sophisticated training events, ensuring our forces are ready to operate together and respond effectively to any crisis.”

The shore phase will involve training across a range of naval competencies, including visit, board, search and seizure operations, diving and salvage, explosive ordnance disposal, medical training and others. Community service events are held throughout the exercise and once again, the Seventh Fleet Rock Band “Orient Express” will perform at multiple venues in the Sattahip and Pattaya regions.

“The Seventh Fleet Band has enjoyed playing throughout Pattaya City for numerous years now,’ said Musician Senior Chief Guy L. Gregg, Senior Enlisted Leader, U.S. Seventh Fleet Band. “The enthusiastic crowd response along with the positive interaction with the local population always makes Thailand one of the premier stops on CARAT.”

Thailand has been part of the CARAT exercise series since it began in 1995, and 2017 marks 184 years of continued diplomatic relations with the United States. This year’s exercise reflects more than two decades of increasingly complex training ashore, at sea and in the air.

U.S. assets participating in CARAT Thailand 2017 include staff from CTF-73 and CDS-7, USS Coronado (LCS 4), USNS Millinocket (T-EPF-3), a P-3C Orion, Marines from 3rd Marine Division based in Okinawa, Coastal Riverine Group (CRG) 1, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5, and the Seventh Fleet Rock Band “Orient Express.”

Phases vary based on exercise locations, mutual training goals and participating assets. Many CARAT phases feature a broad range of naval competencies including surface warfare; undersea warfare; air defense and amphibious warfare; maritime security operations; riverine operations; jungle warfare; explosive ordnance disposal; combat construction; diving and salvage; search and rescue; maritime patrol and reconnaissance aviation; maritime domain awareness; military law; public affairs; military medicine; and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

In the Philippines, CARAT will transition into a maritime training activity, focused on civil-military operations and counterterrorism training. The maritime engagement will also include a series of subject matter expert exchanges between participating forces.

The Singapore phase of CARAT will continue in 2017 under the name Pacific Griffin and will be held in Guam, alternating back to Singapore every other year under the name CARAT Singapore. This change in yearly venues allows the two navies to advance the complexity of maritime training utilizing diverse naval platforms and training areas. While the exercise series remains bilateral at its core, additional countries will participate in select CARAT 2017 exercises making those phases trilateral or multilateral.

CARAT 2017 will continue to feature complex and relevant naval training and security engagements. Its continuing relevance for more than two decades speaks to the high quality of exercise events and the enduring value of regional cooperation among allies and partners in South and Southeast Asia.

As U.S. 7th Fleet's executive agent for theater security cooperation in South and Southeast Asia, Commander, Task Force 73 and Destroyer Squadron 7 conduct advanced planning, organize resources, and directly support the execution of maritime exercises and engagements, such as Pacific Partnership, the bilateral CARAT series, the Naval Engagement Activity (NEA) with Vietnam and the multi-lateral Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.