The Thailand phase of the exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) series officially began June 20 at the Royal Thai Navy’s (RTN) Lam Tien Naval Base Frigate Squadron 2 pier with a look back at the exercise’s unofficial and solemn beginning June 11.
On that day, Sailors from the CARAT task group ship USS Salvor (ARS 52) began six days of dive operations on wreckage in the Gulf of Thailand believed to be that of the lost World War II submarine USS Lagarto (SS 371).
“U.S. Navy divers from Salvor, along with a Royal Thai Navy diver, were able to visit the wreck, a necessary step toward positive identification, thereby helping us fulfill our commitment to honor our war dead,” Alexander A. Arvizu, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, said during the ceremony.
While the Salvor divers’ findings, including seeing the word “Manitowoc” engraved on the submarine’s propeller point heavily toward positive identification, information including underwater video and still photographs are being sent to the Naval Historical Center in Washington for further analysis. Lagarto was one of 28 submarines built in Manitowoc, Wisc. Lagarto and its crew of 86 was last heard from May 3, 1945.
Salvor’s crew now joins Sailors from the rest of the five-ship CARAT task group in conducting a variety of training events with Royal Thai Navy counterparts, designed to promote understanding and professional development.
“This exercise is a testament to the importance of the alliance between our countries,” Arvizu said. “The waters surrounding Thailand are among the most important in the world. Our ability to train together will help us ensure that commerce flows freely, fisheries are protected, and illicit trade is curbed in the region.”
CARAT is a series of bilateral maritime exercises held annually throughout Southeast Asia. Thailand is the second of six phases for the U.S. Sailors.
Sailors and Coast Guardsmen from each of the five CARAT task group ships stood in ranks next to their RTN counterparts for the ceremony. The Sailors will quickly transition from standing at attention together to working side by side during the rigorous weeklong exercise.
Visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) symposiums will provide the tactical training that will be used during realistic pierside and at-sea boardings. VBSS and law enforcement teams from the U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Sherman (WHEC 720) will share their expertise and exchange boarding techniques with their RTN and Thai Coastal Defense counterparts. Maritime interdiction operations are a primary focus of the exercise series, and legal professionals from both navies will review international rules of engagement together.
At the deckplate level, Sailors will share how they tackle shipboard floods and fires. Firefighting, plugging and patching, and shoring techniques will be demonstrated during damage control demonstrations.
In the aviation arena, SH-60 Seahawk aviators and maintainers from Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (Light) (HSL) 37 Detachment 5 will host a presentation on search and rescue techniques, anti-submarine warfare, and flight control systems.
During the at-sea phase, RTN S70 helicopter pilots will hone their skills during deck landing qualifications on USS Crommelin (FFG 37). In a display of interoperability, the S70 pilots will conduct a vertical replenishment (VERTREP) on USS Hopper (DDG 70), while HSL-37's SH-60 conducts a VERTREP and refueling with HTMS Taksin.
Royal Thai marines and RTN sailors will embark USS Tortuga (LSD 46) for an early morning amphibious raid to be held on the last day of the at-sea phase. The sailors and marines will be transported to the beach by air cushion landing craft (LCAC) from Assault Craft Unit 5, Detachment Western Pacific.
Diving and salvage operations from Salvor, gunnery shoots, and mine laying exercises round out the broad range of events designed to enhance interoperability.
Ashore, the two navies will contribute their time and energy during numerous community service projects assembling wheelchairs, donating hygiene and medical supplies, and interacting with blind and orphaned children.
As many as five RTN ships and two Coastal Defense Command patrol boats will take part in the exercise.
The CARAT series will continue through August, with exercises in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. CARAT Singapore ended June 13.
By Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Melinda Larson, Destroyer Squadron 1 Public Affairs