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US, Vietnam Kick Off First Naval Engagement Activity in Trump Era

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US, Vietnam Kick Off First Naval Engagement Activity in Trump Era

Washington and Hanoi begin the 8th iteration of their NEA in the latest sign of a deepening defense relationship.

US, Vietnam Kick Off First Naval Engagement Activity in Trump Era
Credit: US Navy Photo

On July 5, the United States and Vietnam kicked of the eighth iteration of their annual naval engagement in just the latest sign of their ongoing defense ties.

As I have noted before, over the past two decades or so, U.S.-Vietnam defense ties have been slowly strengthening as part of a broader process of normalization since the Vietnam War. The relationship now includes exchanges, exercises, and capacity-building in the maritime security domain with Vietnam’s coast guard (VCG) as Hanoi continues to contend with Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea (See: “US-Vietnam Defense Relations: Problems and Prospects”).

This upward trajectory on defense ties has continued on even after Donald Trump took office in January, with Washington already handing over six 45-foot American Metal Shark patrol boats and a Hamilton-class coast guard cutter ahead of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s meeting with Trump in June (See: “US Gives Vietnam Coast Guard A Boost Ahead of Premier’s Visit”). Interactions, including port visits, have continued, and both sides are mulling additional further steps as well with Vietnam’s defense minister expected to visit Washington soon.

On Wednesday, the United States kicked off the eighth iteration of its Naval Engagement Activity (NEA) with Vietnam. As I have noted previously, though the United States traditionally 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).

NEA Vietnam has evolved over the years from mere port visits to multi-day bilateral naval engagements ashore and at sea, with a number of firsts in recent iterations, including the participation of the U.S. littoral combat ship (LCS) last year for the first time as well as other expansions within the at-sea phase (See: “US, Vietnam Boost Naval Cooperation With NEA 2016”).

On Wednesday, the eighth annual NEA with Vietnam began with the arrival of the USS Coronado (LCS 4) and the USNS Salvor (T-ARS-52) at Cam Ranh International Port, which Vietnam had unveiled for foreign warships last March (See: “Vietnam Unveils Port Facility For Foreign Warships in Cam Ranh Bay”).

This year’s NEA, a five-day engagement, will focus on events and skills exchanges in diving and salvage and undersea medicine, according to Task Force 73, the task force of the U.S. Navy that helps oversee the planning and execution of the CARAT exercises. It will consist of a brief at-sea phase to allow ships to practice the Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), ship handling, and medical evacuations; subject matter exchanges ashore emphasizing areas like shipboard damage control, shipboard medicine, and law; and formal office calls, band concerts, community relations events, and team sports.

Apart from the Coronado and the Salvor, personnel from Task Force 73, Destroyer Squadron 7, and the U.S. 7th Fleet Band, will also participate. This is the first time that an NEA is being held at Khanh Hoa Province since it was first established in 2010; previous NEAs had been held in Danang.

“These naval activities underscore the deepening and diverse relationship between the United States and Vietnam,” U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius noted of NEA Vietnam. “Our security cooperation was an important discussion point during the recent meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc,” he added.