US-Singapore bilateral exercise returns after two years

The USS Makin Island at Changi Naval Base on Jan 11, 2023. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE – Members of the Singapore and United States armed forces are taking part in their first bilateral Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise in the Republic’s territorial waters after two years.

The five-day Exercise Carat 2023, which involves American ship USS Makin Island, will last until Friday. The last edition in Singapore was held in 2020.

The exercises are part of Washington’s annual bilateral military exercises held with several nations in South-east Asia. USS Makin Island was earlier in Situbondo and Surabaya in Indonesia for a 15-day joint exercise that concluded on Dec 21. 

“These exercises have always been to share knowledge, hone our skills and cooperate with different partners in the region,” said Captain Tony Chavez, commanding officer of USS Makin Island.

The exercises at sea will include the use of land craft utility vehicles, he added. The aviation capability and digital interoperability between both nations will also be tested. 

USS Makin Island is an amphibious assault ship with sea-to-shore capabilities. It can accommodate some 2,900 people on board. The ship also houses its own medical wing, with six operating rooms and a 17-bed intensive care unit.

The ICU in the medical facility of USS Makin Island. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Beyond the various amphibious vehicles on board, USS Makin Island can also deploy up to 10 F-35B fifth-generation fighter jets, 10 MV-22 Osprey aircraft and three MH-60 Sierra helicopters.

Servicemen carrying out maintenance on the MV-22B Osprey on the flight deck of USS Makin Island. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The bilateral exercises are also a key part of the White House’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

Ensuring the freedom of navigation is key for US forces, Captain Chavez added, saying the US Navy will continue to act as a deterrence to external threats and keep sea lanes open for all nations. 

Colonel Samuel L. Meyer, commanding officer of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said: “We’re here. We’re here with our partners and allies. We’re committed to that relationship, and peace and security in the region.”

On Dec 21, a US unarmed reconnaissance plane was forced to perform evasive manoeuvres to avoid colliding with a Chinese navy fighter jet over the South China Sea. 

This comes as China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its sovereign territory, with the White House calling that “expansive and unlawful”.

The close encounter followed what the US has called a recent trend of increasingly dangerous behaviour by Chinese military aircraft. 

Beijing responded that Washington’s actions in the South China Sea “seriously endanger China’s national security”. It added that it will continue to take the necessary measures to defend its sovereignty and security. 

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