By Chief Journalist Melinda Larson, Commander, Destroyer Squadron 1 Public Affairs and Journalist 2nd Class Kathryn Whittenberger, Commander, Task Group 712 Public Affairs
ABOARD USS FORT MCHENRY, At Sea (NNS)—Liaison officers from the navies of several Southeast Asia nations embarked with the U.S. Navy for an at-sea anti-terrorism exercise in the Philippine and South China Seas the week of May 23.
The fourth annual Southeast Asia Cooperation Against Terrorism (SEACAT), a scenario-driven exercise, involved the tracking and boarding of simulated rogue merchant ships, and gave the participants an opportunity to witness and share ship tracking and boarding techniques of mutual benefit.
Ten liaison officers from the navies of the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia participated with the U.S. Navy, embarked aboard USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43). Three officers from Thailand were also embarked aboard the container and roll-on/roll-off ship MV PFC James Anderson Jr. (T-AK 3002), which played the role of a rogue merchant ship for exercise purposes. The Royal Brunei Navy also played a role, tracking Fort McHenry as the ship transited past Brunei.
Because of the bilateral nature of the training between each participant and the U.S. Navy, each navy is in a unique position to interact at a level consummate with its capabilities and individual training objectives, said Capt. Buzz Little, commander of Destroyer Squadron (COMDESRON) 1, who led the U.S. task group. The U.S. Navy benefits from exposure to techniques and skills of all of the participating navies.
During the week, COMDESRON 1 staff officers led the liaison officers through a series of scenarios designed to enhance regional coordination efforts that support cooperative responses to terrorism and transnational crimes at sea. Each team tracked simulated rogue ships, created operational plans and responded to operational tasks from COMDESRON 1 staff officers.
The teams then processed, evaluated and disseminated the information back to their respective headquarters, said Lt. Miguel Iniguez, COMDESRON 1 operations officer. In turn, the headquarters provided feedback to the liaison officers on the actions they were taking and what the next steps should be.
The intended end result of the parallel bilateral exercises is that the U.S. Navy, the liaison officers and their headquarters will have a better understanding of information sharing, intelligence gathering, and the importance of working together against transnational threats, Iniguez said.
For the first time, during the fourth annual exercise, both the Philippine and Indonesian navies conducted visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) exercises aboard the scenarios rogue ships, Fort McHenry and Anderson. The Republic of Singapore navy conducted its second SEACAT boarding event in as many years. The Royal Thai navy conducted a VBSS aboard one of its frigates along with a U.S. Coast Guard security team. According to one of the staff facilitators, the officers responded well to the ever-changing scenarios.
This is a bright group of officers who have responded superbly and worked cooperatively in identifying the pertinent information and required course of action in dealing with the alleged threats, Iniguez said.
In addition to daily tasks, the liaison officers experienced the day-to-day operations of a U.S. Navy dock landing ship, including a ride aboard a landing craft, air cushion (LCAC) with members of Assault Craft Unit 5, Detachment Western Pacific Alfa. The liaison officers also witnessed how a U.S. Navy ship is replenished at sea and watched SH-60 Seahawk helicopter pilots from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (Light) (HSL) 45 earn deck landing qualifications on the flight deck of Fort McHenry.
Traveling by a rigid-hull inflatable boat, the officers also visited the guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60).
It was a great experience to visit the USS Paul Hamilton, said Republic of Singapore Capt. Alvin Chua. It was my first time, and I enjoyed it completely.
SEACAT ended May 29 aboard McHenry with a final brief to Little and his staff facilitators. Little had only praise for the liaison officers.
SEACAT was a success because of you," he said. "You worked well together. If all of the officers in your navies are like you, then you all have fine navies."
In addition to Fort McHenry and Anderson, the guided-missile destroyer Paul Hamilton and the frigate USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60) also participated in the weeklong exercise. Other participating U.S. Navy elements included HSL-45, based at Naval Air Station North Island, Calif., and Patrol Squadron (VP) 8, based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.
Littles staff is based in San Diego. Paul Hamilton is homeported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and Rodney M. Davis in Everett, Wash. Fort McHenry is forward-deployed to Sasebo, Japan, while MV Anderson is part of the Pacific Maritime Prepositioning Force.
The first SEACAT exercise was held in 2002.