MANILA, Philippines – The United States of America and the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have begun its first-ever maritime drill in the waters of Thailand, the US Embassy in Manila said on Tuesday (Sept. 3).
The ASEAN-United States Maritime Exercises (AUMX), the ceremony of which was held at Sattahip Naval Base in Thailand on Sept. 2 and co-led by the US and Royal Thai navies, will consist of pre-sail activities in Thailand, Singapore and Brunei followed by a sea phase in international waters in Southeast Asia, including the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea.
The U.S. Embassy said the exercise will conclude in Singapore on Sept. 6.
The AUMX includes eight warships and four aircraft from seven countries, and more than 1,000 personnel from the U.S and ten ASEAN member-states, namely Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The Philippine Navy has deployed its Del Pilar-class patrol ship, BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS16) with around 200 sailors and marines for the maritime exercise.
While U.S. assets include the littoral combat ship USS Montgomery (LCS 8), the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108), three MH-60 helicopters, a P-8 Poseidon aircraft and staff assigned to DESRON 7 and CTF 73.
“Our forces sail together during exercises throughout the year and have done so for decades,” said U.S. 7th Fleet commander Vice Admiral Phil Sawyer. “AUMX provides a new multilateral venue to work together on shared maritime security priorities in the region.”
Operating under the theme “Enhancing Shared Awareness and Interoperability in the Maritime Domain”, this maritime exercise aims to promote shared commitments to maritime partnerships, security and safety, freedom of navigation and overflight, and unimpeded commerce in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law.
Rear Adm. Joey Tynch, commander of Task Force 73, who oversees the U.S. Navy’s security cooperation in Southeast Asia, noted that AUMX continues the trend of increased multilateral cooperation among navies in the Indo-Pacific.
“The U.S. Navy along with our partners and allies have long known the value of working together,” said Tynch. “AUMX builds greater maritime security on the strength of ASEAN, the strength of our navy-to-navy bonds, and the strength our shared belief in a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Throughout the exercise, ASEAN member states and U.S. forces will operate together under a combined task force structure, executing a variety of realistic scenarios designed to reinforce interoperability in areas such as visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS), maritime domain awareness, division tactics and maritime asset tracking.
The task force headquarters will be located onboard the Royal Thai Navy vessel HTMS Krabi (OPV 551), and include representatives from each ASEAN member state and the United States. An ashore support element in Singapore will also host representatives from each ASEAN member state.
The US Embassy said commercial vessels have been contracted to serve as the simulated target vessels for the VBSS portion of the exercise, which will focus on countering maritime threats.
“AUMX provides an opportunity to work together at sea during realistic training scenarios,” said Capt. Matt Jerbi, commodore of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7 and deputy commander of the AUMX Task Force. “Training in areas such as maritime domain awareness, where we share information and integrate operations, helps each of us to operate together more effectively.”
While this is the first exercise of its kind with ASEAN, the U.S. Navy has conducted engagements, exercises and port visits in Southeast Asia for decades. In 2019, the 25th Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) bilateral exercise series commenced, along with the 18th Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) multilateral exercise.
The U.S. Navy also participates routinely in ADMM-Plus maritime security exercises, to promote peace and stability throughout the region.
For the Philippine Navy, its participation in this exercise is expected to advance its maritime operational capability to multilateral level, and increase readiness and interoperability.
Thailand’s palace website crashed on Monday (August 26) after it released unprecedented pictures of the king’s consort in a fighter jet, wearing a crop top and dressed in combat fatigues with him and the royal poodle.
The unusually candid pictures of King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s consort, 34-year-old Major-General Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, were released along with her official biography.
A palace official said the website was being fixed because of the volume of traffic. The palace has a policy of not commenting to media.
The king named Sineenat, a former nurse and his bodyguard, as Royal Noble Consort on his birthday last month. It was the first such appointment in almost a century, long before the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.
Some of the pictures are in the usual royal tradition, with Sineenat wearing Thai dress and sitting at the king’s feet.
But she is also pictured in the cockpit of a fighter jet and wearing a grey camouflage pattern crop-top at the controls of a light aircraft. Some pictures show Sineenat and the king holding hands while one shows them both in green combat fatigues with the royal pet dog.
Sineenat’s appointment as consort came after the king married a former flight attendant and deputy head of his personal guard force, Suthida Tidjai, 41, and made her queen just days before his coronation in May.
Three small explosions, one possibly a homemade bomb, injured three people in Bangkok on Friday (August 2), as the Thai capital hosted a Southeast Asian security meeting with top diplomats from the United States, China and other world powers.
The first explosions were heard just before 9 a.m. (0200 GMT) at two sites near central Bangkok.
A third blast was heard shortly afterwards at a government complex hosting several ministries on the northern side of the city.
Police said two street cleaners had been hurt by what appeared to be a homemade bomb in the Suan Luang district.
Eyewitnesses said a security guard had also been hurt close to the 77-storey King Power Mahanakhon building. The area was partly cordoned off as police searched the area.
Bangkok is currently hosting a regional security meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and their counterparts from world powers including the United States, China and Russia. (REUTERS)
(Production: Soe Zeya Tun, Panu Wongcha-um, Juarawee Kittisilpa, Lion Schellerer)
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