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SINGAPORE - The close of 2019 marks the end of the 25th anniversary of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise series, the U.S. Navy’s oldest and longest running regional exercise in South and Southeast Asia.
For 25 years, the U.S. and partner nations have used CARAT as a premier bilateral and multilateral training forum to address maritime security interests.
Rear Adm. Joey Tynch, commander of Logistics Group Western Pacific/Task Force 73, who leads CARAT for the U.S. Navy, said the quarter-century milestone was an opportunity to reflect on the value of pairing long-standing partnerships with an adaptable exercise.
“This is what enduring partnerships looking like,” said Tynch. “CARAT may be our oldest exercise, but it has never been more relevant. Each year, we build on the shared mission and strong relationships built over decades, and, with our partners, tackle the tough challenges.”
The mission of the CARAT exercises is to promote regional security cooperation, maintain and strengthen maritime partnerships and enhance interoperability among the participants.
“We’re strongest when we sail together,” said Tynch. “Our ability to operate together is greater than it’s ever been, and, from my perspective, so is the professionalism and commitment of everyone who participated in CARAT.
This year’s exercise featured training in the broad range of naval operations, including surface warfare, undersea warfare, air warfare, amphibious warfare, jungle warfare, expeditionary warfare, maritime patrol and reconnaissance aviation, shipboard helicopter operations, maritime interception operations, riverine warfare, explosive ordnance disposal, combat construction, diving and salvage, military operations on urban terrain, military law, public affairs, military medicine, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
U.S. Navy Lt. Jinwei Pho, a foreign area officer and exercise planner for Task Force 73, said that CARAT has evolved in complexity and is a model for partner navies cooperating to address shared maritime security challenges.
“Over a quarter of a century CARAT stays relevant,” said Pho. “The relevance and the commitment speak to the high quality of exercise events and the enduring value of maritime cooperation among allies and partners in South and Southeast Asia.”
CARAT’s origins can be traced back to 1995, with Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand as original partners. Throughout the years, CARAT has continued to grow in size and complexity.
“It’s important to be able to work together and share best practices as a maritime warfighting professionals,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Ann McCann, commodore of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7. “CARAT has been a perfect vehicle for us to co-operate and integrate our maritime forces with different partner nations that each bring their own best capabilities and contributions to the table.”
Each CARAT exercise features a shore phase with professional symposia, which transition to a robust at-sea phase that incorporates complex evolutions and challenging combined operations. CARAT also builds personal relationships through professional exchanges, sports and social events, community service projects and band concerts.
Several thousand U.S. and partner-nation personnel participated in the 25th CARAT series. This year’s participating assets include amphibious ships and landing craft, Coast Guard cutters, combat logistics ships, diving and salvage vessels, expeditionary fast transport ships, guided missile destroyers and cruisers, littoral combat ships, MH-60 helicopters, P-8A maritime patrol aircraft and submarine tenders. Participating U.S. units include Afloat Training Group Pacific, Commander, Task Force (CTF) 70, CTF 72, CTF 73, CTF 74, CTF 75, CTF 76, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) Five, III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) Pacific, Navy Public Affairs Support Element, the Seventh Fleet Band (Orient Express), and staff from U.S. embassies around the region.
“The primary goal during each exercise is to design and execute realistic training scenarios," said U.S. Navy Lt. Matt Ziesmer, an exercise planner from DESRON 7. "Practicing scenarios ashore and at sea that present realistic challenges improves our ability to respond in a real-world event."
Building relationships and camaraderie is one of the goals of the CARAT exercise series and this was evident throughout the exercise’s 25th season.
“One of the really great things about participating in CARAT is the chance to meet and work with so many different people,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Jason Figgeroa, a maritime domain awareness planner assigned to DESRON 7. “You start out as strangers, but after spending an entire exercise working together, sharing meals together and just getting to know each other, you really walk away with a real sense of unity.”
CARAT, along with the related Maritime Training Activities and Pacific Griffin, build upon other engagements in South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, including Pacific Partnership, the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission, Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT), which involves nearly a dozen partner nations and the ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise (AUMX). These engagements bring like-minded naval forces together routinely based on shared values and maritime security interests.
As U.S. 7th Fleet's executive agent for theater security cooperation in South and Southeast Asia, Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific/Task Force 73 and Destroyer Squadron 7 conduct advanced planning, organize resources, and directly support the execution of CARAT and other engagements in the region.