By Asiri Fernando
The joint maritime training exercise, Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) held between the US Navy and Sri Lankan armed forces will begin today (24) in Trincomalee, the Daily FT learns.
The six-day exercise will see two Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) vessels and several Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) aircrafts engage with a US Navy vessel and a P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.
The exercise is planned with limited physical interaction in mind and will follow COVID-19 health regulations, the SLN said.
In a first for Sri Lanka, a vessel from the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) will join Sri Lankan and US forces at the end of the exercise for fleet manoeuvres.
According to the US Navy's seventh Fleet, CARAT is their oldest and longest continually running regional exercise in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Sri Lanka and the US held their first CARAT Ex. in 2017, with the 2019 iteration of it jointly suspended following the Easter Sunday bombings (April 2019).
The United States has increased its military diplomacy and training engagements with South East Asian and South Asian nations following the superpower's strategic shift towards the Indo-Pacific theatre.
In 2016, the US Marines held a joint training with their Sri Lankan counterparts. US Air Force units from the Pacific Command have also held several training exercises with the SLAF over the last decade.
Sri Lanka is in dialogue with the US, India, Japan and other countries to improve its maritime security and response capabilities. Both India and the US have expressed interest in providing Sri Lanka maritime patrol aircrafts to police the vast Exclusive Economic Zone around the island.
Last year, India, Australia, Japan and the US strengthened their defence cooperation and interoperability through a joint exercise – Malabar Ex. 2020 off Visakhapatnam in the Bay of Bengal. The last time the four nations held a similar exercise was in 2007. The four countries together make up a partnership that is known as ‘The Quad’, based on principles of "democracy, a rules-based order, and a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific".
Both India and the US have also strongly expressed their concerns about Chinese activity in the Indian Ocean and in particular about its growing influence in Sri Lanka.
China has expressed concern regarding the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) of the four nations and views the partnership as an informal strategic alliance against the rise of the Asian giant.