The U.S. and Royal Thai Navy (RTN) conducted a series of training events focused on maritime domain awareness (MDA), culminating with scenarios conducted by ships and aircraft in the Gulf of Thailand during this year’s Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Thailand.
The training included knowledge exchanges focused on techniques and tools used in sharing information against maritime threats, as well as legal discussions and tabletop exercises, to prepare for the hands-on portion of the exercise. According to Lt. David Copeland, MDA expert for Destroyer Squadron 7, improved awareness of the maritime domain continues to be a key objective in the U.S.-Thai security alliance, as both navies continue to work together in combating maritime threats, including illegal fishing, human trafficking, weapons smuggling, terrorism, piracy and environmental threats.
“No country alone can ensure maritime security,” said Copeland. “It requires coordinated efforts by all regional partner nations and agencies to actively share information in a transparent and timely manner so we can conduct combined maritime security operations, ensuring safe and secure seas for all.”
“The Royal Thai Navy recognizes the importance of MDA,” said Capt. Yuthanavi Mungthanya, Royal Thai Navy MDA lead for the exercise. “This topic will be very worthwhile for both navies. We will be able to discuss and share about MDA in an open environment.”
Prior to the start of the sea phase, the U.S. Navy and Royal Thai Navy held a series of MDA exchanges focused on basic analytical skills and utilizing information sharing tools to track vessels of interest (VOI). As part of the seminar, U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General and RTN legal officers discussed the legal authorities in conducting visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) of these vessels. The MDA analysts conducted a two-day tabletop exercise, further honing their skills by tracking simulated VOIs that would play into the at-sea scenario. During the at-sea phase, the U.S. Navy and RTN established a combined information sharing watch floor at the RTN Frigate Squadron Two Headquarters. From there, U.S. and RTN Sailors analyzed AIS (Automatic Identification System) data and other sources of information to aid in visual confirmation of the location of the suspected vessel of interest. In this case, the scenario was a weapons and drug smuggling ship-to-ship transfer at sea, with the VOI being role-played by the Military Sealift Command expeditionary fast transport USNS Millinocket (T-EPF 3).
The information sharing watch floor passed the VOI’s position to surface assets, which tracked the vessel at sea, culminating in a combined VBSS of the VOI from the guided missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) and the RTN Naresuan-class frigate HTMS Naresuan (FFG 421). Members of the U.S. Coast Guard were already embarked aboard Millinocket, acting as safety observers and role-playing as illicit weapons smugglers and drug traffickers. Following the boarding, boarding teams quickly relayed the information to the information sharing watch floor. In addition to radio communication, all participants used the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS), a network that enables partner navies to securely share information both at sea and ashore using chat rooms, email and Voice over Internet Protocol. CENTRIXS capabilities were coupled with SeaVision, a web-based visualization tool that provides AIS data, coastal radars and overhead satellite imagery to help analysts track vessel movements. These tools allowed Sailors from both navies to collaborate side by side in developing a common operating picture of the maritime environment. The Department of Defense Maritime Security Initiative (MSI) has developed domain awareness and information sharing interoperability. Since 2016, MSI has provided training, advice, equipment, communications systems, a common regional maritime picture and other MDA enhancement capabilities to several nations in the Indo-Pacific, including Thailand.
“The tools are there for us to effectively practice maritime domain awareness collaboratively with SeaVision’s AIS capabilities and the common operating picture provided by CENTRIXS,” said Copeland. “It is up to each of us to work together and utilize all the information-sharing means at our disposal to counter illicit activities at sea.”
This year’s 25th anniversary of CARAT builds upon 65 years of military partnership in naval exercises between the U.S. and Thailand. “With key at-sea serials focused on information sharing and MDA, CARAT is a venue that allows us to mature relationships and engagement across a broad spectrum of naval warfighting operations,” said Capt. Matt Jerbi, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 7. “There is no other maritime exercise that brings together such a dynamic cadre of naval professionals and platforms. CARAT fosters friendships because we have many exercise veterans among us – Sailors from both navies who have already built strong friendships together through these many engagements and past CARAT exercises.”
Participating assets for CARAT Thailand 2019 included staff from Commander, Task Force 73 and Commander, Destroyer Squadron 7, USS Patriot (MCM 7), USS Pioneer (MCM 9), USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52), USS Antietam (CG 54), USNS Millinocket (T-EPF 3), Marine Rotational Force-Darwin Task Force, U.S. Navy 7th Fleet Band, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5, Naval Environmental Preventive Medicine Unit 6, Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1, Patrol Squadron-8. Royal Thai Navy participation included various staffs and ships including HTMS Naresuan (FFG 421), HTMS Taksin (FFG 422), HTMS Bhumibol Adulyadej (FFG 471), HTMS Rattanakosin (FS 441), HTMS Angthong (LPD 791), HTMS Lat Ya (MHS 633) and HTMS Mattapon (LCU 784). CARAT, the U.S. Navy's oldest and longest continually running regional exercise in South and Southeast Asia, strengthens partnerships between regional navies and enhances maritime security cooperation throughout the Indo-Pacific.
The Royal Thai Navy has been a part of the annual CARAT series since the exercise began in 1995. CARAT builds upon other engagements in South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands including Pacific Partnership, the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission, Maritime Training Activity Malaysia, Maritime Training Activity Philippines, Pacific Griffin with Singapore and Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT), which involves nearly a dozen partner nations. These engagements bring like-minded naval forces together routinely based on shared values and maritime security interests.