Monday, June 20, 2011

US, 6 Southeast Asian nations start exercise on vital sea lanes

By Donna Pazzibugan
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Monday, June 20, 2011

Multilateral naval exercises among the Philippines, United States and five other Southeast Asian nations in the region’s vital sea lanes will proceed to the exercise proper on Monday, officials said.

This year’s Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (Seacat) field training exercise would be held in “strategic points” along vital sea lanes stretching along the Sulu Sea, Celebes Sea and the Malacca Strait.

It is participated in by the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and the United States.

The US-initiated Seacat is an annual exercise among the Navy units in the region meant to enhance interoperability and share tactical and doctrinal best practices in the fight against terrorists, poachers and transnational lawless elements in the region’s sea lanes.

The 10-day Seacat exercise started on June 14 with the command post exercise in preparation for the exercise proper.

The field training exercise (FTX) will be held on June 20-23, the Philippine Navy said.

Three Philippine Navy ships and their counterparts will track down, do surveillance and interdict a ship designated as the “contact of interest” which for this year is the USS Safeguard, a rescue and salvage ship.

The Philippine Navy exercise director, Capt. Franco Sebastian Pan, said the exercise would involve surface, air and special operations units from the different participating Navies within their territories.

Pan said a maritime interdiction operations scenario that included three boarding simulations would take place in the Philippine exercise area in the Sulu and Celebes Seas.

This year’s Seacat exercise is centered on Changi, Singapore, where the exercise command and control facility is located.

A battle staff from each participating Navy is organized in their respective navy headquarters to monitor all the activities of the exercise.

The multilateral Seacat exercise is held back-to-back with a bilateral naval exercise between the Philippines and the United States in the Sulu Sea.

This year’s Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat) exercise with the United States is set from June 28 to July 8 in the Sulu Sea east of Palawan and comes amid tension between the Philippines and China over the contested Spratly chain of islands in the West Philippine Sea.

A Navy spokesperson, however, said the details of the two annual exercises were arranged beforehand.

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