GULF OF THAILAND – An ambiance of pride can be felt throughout the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) as another successful Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) bilateral exchange drew to a close. While the crew was weary after completing rigorous evolutions with three separate partner nations in the Western Pacific, the feeling of successful mission accomplishment was well worth the investment.
This year’s annual CARAT operations began in mid-July for Germantown, when the ship embarked a Landing Air Craft Cushion (LCAC) detachment from Naval Beach Unit (NBU) 7 and sailed to Okinawa and Guam to embark the other various units necessary for the mission. The first embarks were elements from the 2nd Marines, 3rd Battalion, which formed the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) CARAT. This element comprised more than 300 Marines and their gear; Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV), Combat Rubber Raiding Crafts (CRRC) and other gear necessary for amphibious landing assaults.
Next aboard was the team from Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) Far East Detachment along with their five BQM-74E target drones, which were allocated to this year’s highly anticipated missile shoots with Indonesia and Thailand.
Personnel and gear from Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Mobile Unit 5 and Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5 were next and tasked to complete extensive ground-level training with their international counterparts.
The final piece came from Coastal Riverine Squadrons (CORIVRON) 3 and 4 and their Riverine Command Boats (RCBs), two heavily armored coastal patrol craft, newly introduced to multinational-level engagement in the 7th Fleet area of operations.
Once the engagement phases commenced, Germantown embarked the staff of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7 to lead the overall execution of CARAT 2015 events. The staff was led by Capt. H.B. Le, Commodore of DESRON 7, who was overall extremely pleased with this year’s events.
"CARAT exercises allow our forces to continue enhancing our interoperability while addressing shared maritime security priorities," said Capt. H.B. Le. "The exercise demonstrates our commitment to our regional partnerships and stability and security in the Asia-Pacific."
A brand new addition to CARAT was the utilization of CORIVRON 3, from San Diego and CORIVRON 4, from Virginia Beach. The incorporation of their two RCBs was unique considering their previous missions have all been conducted in the 5th Fleet area of operations. This was their first appearance in the 7th Fleet AOR and they were able to demonstrate their tactical use for special operations, high value asset escort and insertion/extraction in combat zones.
“This was all new to us and it was a logistical challenge because we had to carefully plan transport and joint training exercises with our partner nations,” said Lt. Nathaniel McLaughlin, officer in charge of CORIVRON 4. “We have many capabilities, and must coordinate how to best exchange our subject matter experts’ knowledge and provide training while also learning from our partner nations.”
The exciting exercises were not just limited to the sea. Many successful bilateral events were conducted on the beach as well, where United States Marine Corps personnel worked side-by-side with the Marines of partner nations. Both sides collaborated and executed numerous beach landing exercises, tactical raids, jungle survival, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response training.
“The joint training we did with our partner forces really paid off and this mission was a resounding success,” said Lt. Col. Brian Coyne, Commanding Officer of the 2/3 Marines. “Our mission is to train and be ready to fight tonight, if so required, and we can’t do that without these vital partnerships.”
Germantown’s full amphibious capabilities were well utilized, launching LCAC’s, AAV’s, CRRC’s and RCBs for all three of the participating partner nation events. The ship also demonstrated its air capabilities and executed flight deck qualifications (DLQs) during the exercise with the Royal Thailand Navy. These DLQs involved multiple landing and launches of an S-70B and a Super Lynx and were a concerted effort to bolster air interoperability between the two nations.
One of the most anticipated exercises was the live fire test of the missile self-defense systems for allied ships. BQM-74E target drones were launched from Germantown’s flight deck during the CARAT Indonesia and Thailand phases to provide live target presentations to those tactical watch teams. These slender orange missiles launched and accelerated to speeds approaching 300 knots, then flew patterns simulating an inbound hostile missile. The target profiles provided the partner navies with a near combat systems ship’s qualification test (CSSQT) event, enabling them to test and hone their ship systems and tactics.
“The level of professionalism demonstrated through these rigorous CARAT exercises is a testament to the military expertise of all of these great nations,” said Cmdr. Gary Harrington, Commanding Officer aboard Germantown. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the results and the true credit goes to every Sailor and Marine involved in these events. Each individual played a key role in safety and mission success.”
In its 21st year, CARAT is an annual, bilateral exercise with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the armed forces of nine partner nations including Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste.