BRUNEI-MUARA – The Brunei and United States navies kicked off the 24th Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Exercise on Monday, an annual military drill that focuses on maritime security.

The five-day exercise will see ships, aircrafts and personnel from both navies involved in jungle training, tracking and patrolling operations in the South China Sea, and an anti-air warfare drill designed to increase proficiency in missile defence.

“Partnerships matter and and persistent partnerships matter more,” said Captain Ann McCann, deputy commodore of the US Navy’s Destroyer Squadron 7.

“Building capacity and capability between the Bruneian and United States armed forces so that when any type of crisis arrives, we are able to very rapidly and seamlessly integrate together to address whatever that situation might be,” she told media at the opening of CARAT at the Muara Naval Base.

Bruneian and American military officers attend the opening of the 24th CARAT exercise at the Muara Naval Base on Nov 12, 2018. Photo: Courtesy of MinDef Brunei

The US Navy has brought along two ships to Brunei — the USNS Fall River and USS Emory S Land — to participate in CARAT, as well as the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

In a press statement, Rear Admiral Joey Tynch, commander of all US naval assets in Southeast  Asia, said as the US-Brunei military relationship enters its fourth decade, each CARAT exercise increases in complexity, building on lessons learned from previous iterations.

“Our combined ability to effectively operate out at sea in any maritime environment demonstrates our rapidly growing partnership and unwavering commitment to ensuring freedom of navigation and respect for international law,” he said.

Washington has said it plans to move 60 per cent of its naval assets to the Indo-Pacific area by 2020, where it frequently conducts “freedom of navigation” operations in the disputed South China Sea, much to the chagrin of Beijing.

CARAT is a bilateral exercise series between the United States Navy and the armed forces of nine partner nations, including Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

Brunei has been a CARAT partner since 1995.

The Royal Brunei Armed Forces has also participated with the US military in a variety of other multilateral exercises, including the annual Southeast Asia Cooperation Training (SEACAT) and biennial Rim of Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise.

“The military relationship between the US and Brunei is very strong and has been for a number of years. We have a persistent presence here,” said Capt McCann.

This year, the two countries also conducted their first army-to-army exercise, with the Royal Brunei Land Forces leading US soldiers in jungle warfare operations.

A soldier with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Brunei Land Forces, instructs a soldier assigned to the 151st Infantry Regiment, Indiana Army National Guard, while conducting jungle warfare operations during Exercise Pahlawan Warrior in Brunei on Aug 11, 2018. Photo via US Navy/Royal Brunei Land Forces

In October, ASEAN also announced it would start a joint naval exercise with the US slated for 2019, just as the group kicked off its inaugural maritime drill with China in the same week.

“We’re in the very early planning stages and we’ll be working out in the next several months to determine the scope and scale of that exercise is going to be,” McCann added.