The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS John S. McCain and the Emory S. Land-class submarine tender USS Frank Cable arrived in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam‘s strategically important South China Sea port, on October 2 for a scheduled port visit, according to a U.S. Pacific Command press release.
The visit of the U.S. warships – the first visit of commissioned U.S. Navy warships to Cam Ranh Bay since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 – comes in the wake of Hanoi and Washington celebrating the 21st anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations in 2016.
The U.S. and Vietnamese navies have a held a number of joint naval exercises over the past decade.
“NEA [Naval Engagement Activity] Vietnam has evolved from annual port visits to Da Nang by U.S. Navy ships, which began more than a decade ago, to a multi-day bilateral naval engagement ashore and at sea. Each year the engagement becomes more complex, and last year marked the first time a littoral combat ship, USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), participated,” U.S. Pacific Command notes.
(The Freedom-class LCS USS Forth Worth is at the moment out of action after suffering damage to its propulsion system caused by a human error in January.)
As my colleague Prashanth Parameswaran explained in The Diplomat, “though the United States refers to its naval interactions with Southeast Asian states such as the Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) and the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) as exercises, those with Vietnam continue to be referred to on their own as a Naval Engagement Activity (NEA).”
Prior to its arrival at Cam Ranh Bay, the USS John S. McCain participated in a search and rescue scenario and a communications exercise featuring the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES). The USS Frank Cable is one of one of two forward-deployed submarine tenders and is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. naval forces in the region.
While at Cam Ranh Bay, “sailors and military sealift command civilian mariners will have a chance to explore, learn, and share with the people of Vietnam,” the press release states. Furthermore U.S. Pacific Command notes that the NEA with Vietnam is “designed to foster mutual understanding, build confidence in the maritime domain, and develop relationships between the people and navies of both nations.”
Both U.S. Navy warships departed Vietnamese shores on October 4.