The US Navy’s fifth and largest training exercises with the Royal Cambodian Navy kicked off yesterday at Sihanoukville’s Ream Naval Base, with around 400 American sailors and 600 of their Cambodian counterparts set to perform joint exercises through Thursday.
Under the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) program, eight Asian countries undergo annual military exercises with the US Navy.
This year’s exercises with the Kingdom are the “most complex” by far, according to Lieutenant Commander Clay Doss, US Navy public affairs officer.
“[Last year] we only had a frigate, which is not nearly capable of doing what the ship we brought this year is”, said Doss in a reference to the 155-metre-long guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin, currently achored at Sihanoukville’s port.
Sailors will hold training sessions about navigation, fire control, and boarding techniques, among others, while the Royal Cambodian Air Force will also participate for the first time in a practice search-and-rescue mission.
“It’s not one-way training, we learn as much from our current partners as they do from us”, stressed Doss.
Tea Vinh, RCN commander, said in a speech yesterday that the exercise was aimed at strengthening bilateral and regional cooperation, along with building friendship with the United States.
“It is an annual exercise for maritime safety, security, and anti-terrorism,” Vinh told reporters afterwards.
According to the US Navy, the training exercises are meant to combat security issues such as piracy and trafficking as well as natural disasters.
However, Ian Storey, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said in an email that such defence cooperation may have geopolitical reasons as well.
Even though CARAT was initiated in 1995 when China was not viewed as a strategic competitor, Storey said “Cambodia’s participation in CARAT only started in 2010 and could be conceived of as part of efforts by Washington to offset China’s influence in that country”.