This week, the United States and Brunei kicked off this year’s iteration of an annual maritime exercise at Muara Naval Base. The engagement reflects the continuing emphasis of both sides on developing their defense ties as well as a broader, ongoing U.S. effort to further expand its bilateral and multilateral exercises in the Asia-Pacific more generally, in spite of the challenges inherent in this process.
As I have noted before, one of the key exercise series that the United States conducts with Southeast Asian states is the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), which occurs between the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and the armed forces of nine partner nations in South and Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste. U.S. officials have been noting that there is an ongoing effort to expand bilateral and multilateral exercises (See: “US Eyes Expanded Military Exercises with ASEAN Navies”).
Brunei was one of the original CARAT partners and has been part of the exercise series since it began back in 1995. CARAT is just one manifestation of the broader U.S.-Brunei defense relationship, which also includes annual ship visits, staff talks, and other exercises including the Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) drills. As I noted back in September, one of the notable developments in SEACAT this year was the fact that portions of it were conducted at the multinational coordination center (MNCC) in Brunei (See: “What Did the Latest US Asia Maritime Security Exercise Achieve?”).
This year’s iteration of CARAT Brunei kicked off on November 6 and will last until November 10. Consistent with the general structure of previous iterations, it features five days of shore-based and at-sea training events focused on addressing shared maritime security priorities as well as developing professional relationships and enhancing cooperation between the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and the Royal Brunei Armed Forces.
Key events during CARAT Brunei will include subject matter expert exchanges in port security, aviation and surface warfare, diving and salvage, military medicine, law, and public affairs, along with a comprehensive at sea exercise, according to a statement by Logistics Group Western Pacific (COMLOG WESTPAC), the 7th Fleet’s principal logistics agent and bilateral exercise coordinator for Southeast Asia. There will also be other engagements, including a jungle warfare exercise between U.S. Marines and soldiers from the Royal Brunei Landing Force (RBLF) and community relations interactions.
The exact number of participating personnel on both sides was not disclosed. But participating U.S. Navy assets this year include USNS Millinocket (T-EPF 3), USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52), a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, staff from Commander, Task Force (CTF) 73 and Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, and the U.S. 7th Fleet Band.