TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka - The 27th annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise series between the U.S. Navy and the armed forces of partner nations commenced with CARAT Sri Lanka, June 24.
Taking place throughout South and Southeast Asia, CARAT expands bilateral and multilateral exercises; ensures maritime security, stability, and prosperity; and highlights the United States’ commitment to the region, the sovereignty of nations therein, and to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
“The CARAT exercise series creates an opportunity to sharpen our skills, learn from one another and allows us to work towards our shared goal of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Rear Adm. Christopher Engdahl, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 7. “When we have a better understanding of the environments in which we operate, we can focus on upholding international rules-based order in the maritime environment.”
CARAT Sri Lanka marks the commencement of the first cooperation afloat readiness and training event to be held in 2021, where representatives from U.S. Navy and the armed forces of Sri Lanka and Japan will meet virtually and at sea. This is the first year that the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) will join CARAT Sri Lanka as an official participant, making this a multilateral exercise.
The at-sea phase will take place in territorial and international water near Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, where USS Charleston (LCS 18) and a P-8A Poseidon aircraft assigned to CTF 72 will join with ships and aircraft from Sri Lanka and Japan for partnered training, focused on building interoperability and strengthening relationships. Sri Lankan Navy ships at-sea will include the Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessels SLNS Gajabahu (P626), formerly USCGC Sherman (WHEC-720), a USCG Guard Hamilton-class high endurance cutter that was transferred to Sri Lanka Navy in August 2018, and Indian-built SLNS Sayurala (P623). JMSDF Asagiri-class destroyer JS Yuugiri (DD-153) will also join U.S. and Sri Lanka at sea.
The countries will demonstrate their ability to work together through numerous events including divisional tactics designed to enhance communication as ships sail together in complex maneuvers; a tracking exercise aimed at increasing both navies’ ability to track and pursue targets through the coordinated deployment of surface ships and maritime patrol aircrafts; and search and rescue exercises.
U.S. Navy, Sri Lankan Navy, and Sri Lankan Air Force will be conducting helicopter cross-deck operations for the very first time, marking a major step forward for military interoperability between the two countries. Assigned to Charleston, an MH-60S helicopter from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21 will be operating with Sayurala and Gajabahu, while Sri Lankan Air Force Bell 212 helicopters will be operating with Charleston. The two nation’s helicopters will be conducting deck landing qualifications (DLQs) and vertical replenishments (VERTREP) drills, crucial missions for resupply of any navy warships at sea. The joint practice and lessons learned from cross-decking will assist both countries in improving international maritime security in the Indian Ocean region.
“CARAT Sri Lanka perfectly reflects the excellent cooperation between our two navies, and emphasizes our partnership and respect for Sri Lankan sovereignty,” said Capt. Tom Ogden, commander, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7. “This will be exemplified when we meet our Sri Lankan and Japan partners at sea, focusing on key areas to grow our maritime integration training. From the integration of Navy Seabees aboard USS Charleston, to the P-8 and participating commands using IORIS information sharing, the training value of CARAT Sri Lanka 2021 is on track to be invaluable building on previous iterations between our nations.”
This is the first year United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the EU Critical Maritime Route Wider Indian Ocean (CRIMARIO) will support CARAT Sri Lanka. Both organizations’ expertise will provide the U.S., Sri Lanka, and Japan militaries a better understanding of the international rules and norms associated with operational challenges of today’s complex maritime security mission. UNODC educates and offers interregional practical assistance on combatting maritime crime, trafficking in persons, and smuggling of migrants. EU CRIMARIO aims to enhance comprehensive understanding of the maritime domain and to promote its security and safety for countries in the region, with the goal to improve maritime security and safety in the wider Indian Ocean.
The virtual SMEE events will feature a variety of joint training opportunities, to include vessel interdiction and boarding training, replenishment at sea (RAS) best practices, Women Peace and Security symposium, and more. Other virtual exchanges will include maritime domain awareness (MDA), maritime aviation training, and anti-terrorism force protection, among other topics.
U.S. assets participating in CARAT Sri Lanka include staff from CTF 72, CTF 73, CTF 75, CTF 76, DESRON 7, the U.S. 7th Fleet Band, and a P-8A Poseidon aircraft. Afloat units include Charleston with helicopter detachment from HSC-21, and embarked integrated Navy Seabees assigned to CTF 75.
Beginning in 1995, CARAT builds upon other engagements in South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific region. Each CARAT exercise features professional symposia and a robust at-sea phase that incorporates complex evolutions that increase combined operations. Both feature a broad range of naval competencies ranging from explosive ordnance disposal and live-fire gunnery exercises to search and rescue and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
Charleston’s rotational deployment marks the seventh littoral combat ship presence in the Indo-Pacific, which include USS Freedom (LCS 1), USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), USS Coronado (LCS 4), USS Montgomery (LCS 8), USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10), and USS Tulsa (LCS 16).
Attached to DESRON 7, Charleston is on a rotational deployment to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the region, and to work alongside allied and partner navies to provide maritime security and stability, key pillars of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
As the U.S. Navy’s destroyer squadron forward-deployed in Southeast Asia, DESRON 7 serves as the primary tactical and operational commander of littoral combat ships rotationally deployed to Singapore, ESG 7’s Sea Combat Commander, and builds partnerships through training exercises and military-to-military engagements.
Under Commander, U. S. Pacific Fleet, 7th Fleet is the U.S. Navy's largest forward-deployed numbered fleet, and routinely interacts and operates with 35 maritime nations in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region.