The U.S. Navy’s multi-national exercises in the Pacific theater are growing in size and taking on new dimensions due to the U.S. military’s overall strategic re-balance or “pivot” to the region, service officials explained.
Although many of the multi-national exercises currently underway have been growing in recent years, the U.S. military’s strategic focus on the area is having a profound impact upon training activities there, Navy officials acknowledge.
The Navy’s Pacific pivot means that the service will base as much as 60-percent of its fleet in the region, work to strengthen ties with regional partners and place up to four Littoral Combat Ship vessels on rotational deployments through Singapore.
The ongoing Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training, or CARAT, exercise, now in its 19th year, has been steadily growing larger over the years and taking on a broader scope of activities. CARAT is a nine-country series of bilateral exercises between the U.S. and Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and East Timor, Navy officials said.
The exercise is designed to enhance maritime security skills and interoperability among participating forces through a series of joint exercises which include communications activities, aircraft monitoring drills and visit, board, search and seizure drills, among other things.
In particular, the presence of the LCS allows for joint collaborative activities in shallow water previously not possible in these kinds of exercises. The recently-completed CARAT Malaysia marked the LCS’ first time participating in this series of bilateral naval exercises, Navy officials indicated.
CARAT Malaysia included the USS Freedom, an LCS, as well as the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur, the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga, and the rescue and salvage ship USNS Safeguard, said Lt. Anthony Falvo, spokesman, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
“The Pacific re-balance is allowing us to do things we have not been able to do in the past. Some of our allies were looking for something a little more compatible with what they had. The LCS allows us to better train and adapt to our partner navies who have been operating smaller, shallow-draft platforms for years,” said Falvo.
Unlike the deep draft known to accompany some of the U.S. Navy’s larger ships, the LCS can more readily and easily interoperate in shallow water with ships from allied navies such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and others, Falvo explained.
“The LCS is opening a whole new world for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, as it allows the U.S. Navy access to ports and waters that have been hard for us to access previously due to deep-draft platforms and ships. With her shallow draft, the LCS platform allows us the ability to engage potential shore-based threats from as little as 13 feet of water,” Falvo added.
The CARAT drills, happening now with the Philippine Navy and the USS Fitzgerald along with some other ships, also help the U.S. establish and refine operations with partner nations. Being able to operate and address threats close to shore -- in close coordination with regional allies – is a key part of the Navy’s pacific re-balance or emphasis.
The Pacific fleet is also participating in its 8th annual so-called Pacific Partnership humanitarian exercise, a multi-national disaster relief exercise designed to increase capabilities in the region for countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines and East Timor, among others.
Pacific Partnership has also grown in scope and size. The exercise included eight partner nations and eight NGOs in 2006, and last year's mission included 13 partner nations, 28 NGOs, four U.S. agencies and a joint effort across the Department of Defense, Falvo said.
Also, Pacific Partnership 2013 will be the first mission where our partner nations lead individual phases, he explained.
“Australia will lead in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand will lead in both Kiribati and Solomon Islands, while the United States leads in Samoa, Tonga, and the Marshall Islands. Sharing of lead responsibilities and logistical resourcing among partner nations will keep this mission sustainable in light of future fiscal challenges,” he added.