SHAH ALAM: Stealth Over Sabah. A couple of U.S Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters took part in a live firing exercise at Kota Belud range in Sabah on Aug. 15. The stealth fighters were embarked on USS Essex, a Wasp class LHD which is part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG)
The ARG is now involved in the 24th iteration of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) between Malaysia and U.S. The current political scenario means that the exercise reverted to a low key mode without any media coverage apart from official releases unlike previous ones.
The F-35Bs embarked on the Essex belonged to the the “Wake Island Avengers” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211. No pictures of the squadron involvement in Carat has been released so far, when they do I will published them in another post. There is also no word on whether RMAF took part in the exercise though a Hawk 208 was slightly damaged after it skidded off the runway when landing at the Labuan airport on Aug. 14. The pilot escaped unhurt.
The involvement of the F-35s in the live firing exercise was only revealed when the Joint Force headquarters posted on it in its official social media channels. Even the U.S in its official release had not stated the involvement of the F-35s or even the Essex in the exercise.
The U.S. and Royal Malaysian Navy commenced the 24th iteration of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Malaysia in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, August 10.
The CARAT exercise focuses on the full spectrum of naval capabilities and is designed to strengthen the close partnership between both navies while cooperatively ensuring maritime security, stability and prosperity.
“In nearly a quarter of a century of CARAT exercises, we have continued to ensure forward presence, deterrence and sea control each time when U.S. and Royal Malaysian ships get underway together and conduct cooperative exercises,” said Rear Adm. Joey Tynch, Commander Task Force 73.
Expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Millinocket (T-EPF 4) and a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft will conduct nearly a dozen at-sea exercises with the Royal Malaysian Navy including a gunnery exercise (GUNNEX) to maintain Sailors’ readiness with onboard weapon systems, visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) exercise to increase and maintain proficiency in boarding vessels that may harbor illegal weapons and drugs, and division tactics (DIVTACS) to enhance cooperative fleet maneuvers.
“This is a great opportunity for all of us working side by side, to improve and enhance all of our operational capabilities,” said Brig. Gen. William Jurney, Commanding General of 3rd Marine Infantry Division. “We look forward to continuing to advance all of our joint and integrated capabilities’ both here and in the future.”
CARAT Malaysia builds upon other engagements with Malaysia including Pacific Partnership, the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission and Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT), which involves nearly a dozen partner nations. These engagements serve to enhance information sharing and coordination and support long-term regional cooperation.
“I have seen first-hand the professionalism of the Malaysian Armed Forces. Annually for the past 24 years our armed forces have engaged and exercised with each other in increasingly complex and sophisticated scenarios. Throughout this time we have learned much about each other – how we communicate and operate – and it is vital to effectively working together to ensure security, stability and prosperity in the region,” said Capt. Lex Walker, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 7.
“The aim of this exercise is to enhance interoperability as well as individual capacity to conduct amphibious operations at a tactical level,” said Maj. Gen. Dato’ Zulkapri bin Rahamat, General of Officer Commanding Task Force 450. “It is also to provide good opportunities for all of us to reshape ideas and experiences so that we can plan and conduct operations in the region whenever something arises. We are looking forward to an active discussion and a productive outcome in the planning and conduct of amphibious assault and ship-to-ship training as well as other exposures through subject matter expert exchanges.”
Malaysia has been part of the CARAT exercise series since it began in 1995. After more than two decades of annual training events between the armed forces, CARAT Malaysia remains a model for cooperation that has evolved in complexity and enables both navies to refine operations and tactics in response to traditional and non-traditional maritime security challenges.
It must be noted also that a US Marine went overboard during Essex transit to Sulu Sea ahead of the exercise resulted in massive SAR operations. The marine remained missing until now.
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