SUBIC Bay, Philippines - A U.S. Navy task group comprised of ships, aircraft, Sailors and Marines arrived in the Philippines to commence the 20th annual exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), June 26.
The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and the dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) arrived in Subic Bay, while the diving and salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) arrived in Sangley Point. An opening ceremony was held on board the Philippine navy ship, BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF 16), one of two former Hamilton-class Coast Guard Cutters transferred to the Philippines navy in recent years.
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 Philippines has participated since the series began in 1995, and the past two decades CARAT are a clear example of the longstanding and close U.S.-Philippines navy-to-navy relationship.
"It's safe to say that after two decades, many of the senior officers and enlisted here today probably participated in a past CARAT Philippines, and this coming week, more than 1,000 U.S. Navy Sailors and Marines will join the ranks of CARAT alumni," said Rear Adm. Stuart Munsch, commander of Task Force 74 and 7th Fleet's Executive Agent for CARAT Philippines.
Munch noted that CARAT was part of a broader series of U.S.-Philippines navy-to-navy exercises, exchanges and staff talks that occurred throughout the year.
"These engagements share a common theme, that our security cooperation not only supports mutual interests, it contributes to regional stability and prosperity - a formula that is truly positive sum," said Munsch.
The CARAT series promotes regional maritime cooperation with many participating navies. Planning for each phase of CARAT begins a year in advance and exercise phases take place during the same general timeframe each year. CARAT 2014 began in late May and recently completed phases with Malaysia and Indonesia. Additional phases will continue through end of year with Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Singapore and Timor-Leste.
Continuing through July 1, this year's CARAT Philippines will focus on combined operations at sea, amphibious landings, diving and salvage, and maritime patrol and reconnaissance flights. Sailors and Marines will train with their Philippine Armed Forces counterparts during multiple drills, professional exchanges and seminars ashore. Civil action projects, community service events and band concerts will facilitate interaction with the local community.
2014 Exercise events will occur in several locations ashore and at sea including Subic Bay, San Antonio in Zambales, Sangley Point in Cavite City, and Ternate. Previous CARAT exercises were held in Mindanao (2012), Palawan (2011), Subic Bay (2010 and 2013), Cebu (2009) and other locations. As in years past, the sea phase will take place in international waters west of Subic Bay.
"We're very much looking forward to getting underway for the at-sea phase of CARAT," said Capt. Paul Schlise, commodore of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7 embarked on McCain. "These training opportunities are critical to enhancing our interoperability, safeguarding freedom of the seas and ensuring we're ready to respond in partnership with the Philippines in case of an HADR scenario or other crisis."
More than 1,000 Sailors and Marines are participating in CARAT Philippines 2014. Participating units include McCain, Ashland with embarked Marines from 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Safeguard with embarked Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 and a P-3C maritime patrol aircraft. Also participating are Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 1, a platoon from Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) 1, a platoon from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5, staff from Commander, Task Force 73 (CTF 73) and Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, and the 7th Fleet Band Orient Express.