Philippines, U.S. train at CARAT 2012 to improve Coastal Watch South project
General Santos City, Philippines – United States Ambassador Harry Thomas and Filipino officials hailed the eight-day Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training [CARAT] 2012 as an example of the unwavering cooperation and strength of military alliance between the nations.
The highly anticipated exercises that began July 2 tested for the first time the operational capability of the U.S.-assisted maritime surveillance initiative Coastal Watch South project in eastern Mindanao.
Thomas said CARAT brings greater cooperation in areas of defense and security between the two countries. CARAT was designed to enhance interoperability and share best practices between the two navies.
“Military skills are perishable. We need to continue training and hone our skills and broaden our horizons. CARAT allows us to build on previous missions and observe lessons and increase our shared responsibility to strengthen our relationship,” he said.
This year’s program included in-port training, subject matter expertise exchanges, ceremonies and interactions, diving and salvage training. It also offered medical, dental, engineering civic action and community relations activities near the host site.
Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia, commanding general of the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said CARAT provided the Philippines an opportunity to train with its counterpart, particularly in the area of maritime security.
“I am really excited that it is being held for the first time in eastern Mindanao … it is not only with the training, but it gives us the opportunity to work closer with our counterparts,” he said.
“Maritime security will not only benefit the military, but also the residents within the Mindanao Sea.”
This year’s training tapped the participation of the Philippine and United States Coast Guards.
Segovia, who delivered the July 2 keynote speech and formally opened the training exercise, said members of the Philippine Navy and Marines and the Philippine Coast Guard not only improved their skills, but the training likewise allowed them to use the state-of-the-art equipment of the U.S. Navy.
Coastal Watch South project
Segovia said the naval war games would test the capability of the Coastal Watch project, the Philippines’ biggest and most expensive security project. It was designed as a counter-terrorism initiative based on sea-based monitoring to secure the country’s maritime borders.
The project focuses on maritime surveillance by tracking the movements of terrorists and sea-based criminals within the maritime area the Philippines shares with its southern neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia. Australia and the United States partially funded similar projects which have been widened to include maritime defense and security.
“The CARAT should give us the opportunity to test the efficiency of our Coastal Watch stations, which is a joint concept with the United States, in the area of eastern Mindanao,” Segovia said.
Commodore Philip Cacayan, commander of the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the military exercises allowed officers to examine security problems in Mindanao and chart the corresponding responses.
Even Filipino domestic officials were elated to host the naval exercise in the region. General Santos City Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio said it would help transfer of knowledge and technical expertise from the United States Navy to its Philippine counterpart.
Training features real recovery mission
This year’s CARAT also included realistic training sessions. Nearly 100 U.S. Navy and Coast Guard personnel joined Filipino troops in trying to locate and salvage the debris of the Philippine Air Force SF-260 training plane that crashed in the Manila Bay in May.
“So this year’s exercise is not only a training, but a real world operation,” said Rear Admiral Thomas Carney Jr., logistics commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet and the head of the U.S. Navy delegation.
Carney said divers were to recover what remained of the aircraft under CARAT’s diving and salvage operations. He added that the whole training exercise should increase the overall capability of the Philippine Navy.
Cacayan said they hoped to learn new skills and techniques in mine countermeasures.
The Filipino exercise co-director said participants would also learn night-time troop insertion involving SEAL teams and Marines.
Cacayan said its sole purpose is to continue building friendship and cooperation between the navies and to enforce maritime security.
CARAT is being held with other ASEAN countries and with Timor Leste this year.