SATTAHIP, Thailand (NNS) -- When Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen put forth the bold concept of a "1,000-ship navy," he envisioned the U.S. and other navies worldwide joining in regional partnerships to improve maritime security and the sharing of information.
The admiral in charge of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise series believes Southeast Asia-based CARAT is making the CNO's vision a reality.
"I'm sure the CNO didn't have this in mind when he coined the phrase '1,000-ship navy,' but I actually think CARAT is the model exercise for the '1,000-ship navy,'" said Rear Adm. William Burke, Commander of Task Force 73 and Logistics Group, Western Pacific. "What [CARAT] does is it takes countries that are willing to come [to the exercise] and we figure out how to work together, which will allow us to work better in real-world operations should it be necessary."
CARAT, now in its 13th year, partners the U.S. with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand in a series of bilateral exercises. The 2007 exercise, which began in the Philippines last month, will conclude its Thailand phase June 27, with a ceremony at Sattahip Naval Base.
While cooperation between the U.S. and host-nation ship and aircraft crews is crucial for CARAT, the exercise also involves Marines, Coast Guardsmen, divers, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and mine assembly teams.
What makes CARAT ideal for the CNO's vision, Burke explained, is the way those assets are used in each country.
"CARAT is the primary exercise for the countries involved, so we want it to be free-form, just as the CNO talked about," he said. "The exercise format is kind of an open-architecture type -- whatever you want to do, we'll do it. We like to focus on maritime security because we all think that's important, but if you want to have an anti-air piece, we'll do an anti-air piece. If you want to do an anti-submarine piece, we'll do an anti-submarine piece."
CARAT 2007's opening phases in both the Philippines and Thailand did place an emphasis on maritime security, with the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard training with their Philippine and Thai counterparts in visit, board, search and seizure techniques, both pierside and during the at-sea phase.
But the location of these exercises, particularly in the case of the Philippines phase, was a solution unique to CARAT 2007. The exercise made its first visit to the Mindanao Region of the Philippines, with the CARAT task group -- consisting of USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), USS Jarrett (FFG 33) and USS Ford (FFG 54) -- anchoring off Zamboanga for the first four days.
"When you think about maritime security, you have to think about it as discrete pieces," Burke said. "So anything we do to improve the maritime security in the Sulu Archipelago, in the Gulf of Thailand, north of Java, in the Singapore Strait, South China Sea, whatever we're doing, that adds to the overall security, and that's the concept of the '1,000-ship navy.'"
Another major point of emphasis for the CNO's "1,000-ship navy" concept, information sharing, is a major component of CARAT. In both the Philippines and Thailand phases, U.S. and host-nation navies used the Combined Enterprise Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS), to communicate quickly and effectively at sea and ashore.
CENTRIXS played a major part during the at-sea phases, allowing the CARAT task group commander, Capt. Al Collins of Destroyer Squadron 1, and his Philippine and Thai counterparts to coordinate efforts with the task group's other ships.
"We have more CENTRIXS stations available, better trained people on CENTRIXS, and we're able to leave CENTRIXS in place longer," Burke said.
One other key concept of the "1,000-ship navy" is an emphasis on regional maritime partnerships -- cooperation among nations with a shared stake in international commerce, safety and freedom of the seas.
CARAT has such partnerships, thanks to the bilateral nature of its exercises. Burke says those partnerships will continue and possibly grow.
"This year, we're having Vietnam observe a couple of phases; they'll be aboard U.S. ships for the Brunei and Singapore phases," he said. "We may add others as well as time goes on. But I envision Vietnam in a year or two being a full CARAT participant."
In the future, however, Burke believes that CARAT will evolve past one-on-one exercises into a more multinational approach.
"Transnational problems often require multilateral solutions, so we'd like to see CARAT become more multilateral," he said. "For instance, you can envision an in-port phase in Country A, then an in-port phase in Country B, then an at-sea phase with both of them. So I think that's where we're headed. Some of that may be inside of CARAT, some of it may be outside of CARAT. But whether it ends up being within CARAT or not is of little importance. What is important is that the exercise takes place."
For more news from Commander Task Force 73, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/clwp/.