First US-Asean naval exercise begins

First US-Asean naval exercise begins

Officers of the US Navy and maritime forces of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) participate in the inauguration ceremony of the Asean-US Maritime Exercise in Sattahip, Thailand, on Monday. (AP photo)
Officers of the US Navy and maritime forces of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) participate in the inauguration ceremony of the Asean-US Maritime Exercise in Sattahip, Thailand, on Monday. (AP photo)

The first US-Asean Maritime Exercise (AUMX) was officially opened with a ceremony at the Royal Thai Fleet headquarters at Chon Buri's Sattahip district on Monday.

The ceremony was attended by representatives of navies from the 10 participating countries and was jointly presided over by Vice Admiral Charoenpol Kumrasee, chief-of-staff of the Royal Thai Fleet, and Rear Admiral  Kenneth Whitesell, deputy commander of the US Pacific Fleet. 

The joint exercise, which will run until Friday, involves 1,250 military personnel.

Joining the drills are Brunei's Darussalam-class KDB Darulaman offshore patrol vessel, the Philippines' KDB Ramon Alcaraz, Singapore's RSS Tenacious frigate, Myanmar's UMS Kyan Sittha frigate, and the Royal Thai Navy's HTMS Krabi, an offshore patrol vessel.

The US has sent the littoral combat ship USS Montgomery (LCS 8), the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108), three MH-60 helicopters, a P-8 Poseidon aircraft and staff assigned to DESRON 7 and CTF 73.

The vessels will form a combined task force (CTF) for the exercise, which will take place in Cape Cà Mau on the Cà Mau Peninsula in Vietnam -- southernmost point of mainland Indochina.

The AUMX is co-led by the US and the Royal Thai Navy and will be preceded with pre-sail activities in Thailand, Singapore and Brunei, followed by sea drills in international waters in the Gulf of Thailand as well as the South China Sea. The exercise will conclude in Singapore.

VAdm Charoenpol said the multilateral drill, the first of its kind, is aimed to improve maritime cooperation and enhance security in the region. 

The US participation sets the stage for the sharing of naval experiences. The US is participant in the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat) as well as the Cobra Gold, the largest Asia-Pacific military exercise held annually in Thailand.

VAdm Charoenpol said countries are expected to take turns hosting the US-Asean Maritime Exercise. He insisted it has nothing to do with the regional maritime conflict in the South China Sea as the exercise does not involve arms training. 

"The aim is to train the regional navies in delivering humanitarian assistance and mitigating disasters," he said.

RAdm Whitesell said the collective training reflects a stronger regional military partnership. However, he insisted it is not the case of the US imposing its will on other countries, as each participating navy has their own set of objectives it wants to accomplish in the exercise. 

"When we do join together, we know we have the understanding of how we are going to operate together. That's why this exercise is critical," he said. 

He denied the AUMX is intended to challenge China's maritime dominance in the South China Sea.


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