Stop, Search and Seize: US Allies Launch SEACAT Exercise

Ships and sailors from twenty-one nations began this year’s Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) exercise in Singapore on August 16.

The exercise, “designed to enhance cooperation among Southeast Asian countries and provide mutual support and a common goal to address crises, contingencies and illegal activities in the maritime domain using tactics, standard techniques and procedures,” reverts to an in-person exercise after being an at-sea-only exercise the previous two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“SEACAT is about learning how to effectively share information between like-minded partners,” said Vice Admiral Karl Thomas, commander of the US 7th Fleet in a US Navy. statement.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced many unique challenges that have required creativity and flexibility to maintain our operational readiness, as well as our connections with our allies and partners. As we transition to a post-pandemic reality, I look forward to more face-to-face meetings.

SEACAT follows a series of U.S.-led maritime exercises with other partner nations in the Indo-Pacific region. The largest maritime exercise in the world, Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), has just ended. The U.S. Navy led the biennial exercise, and this year’s iteration brought together twenty-six Pacific nations to practice various naval warfare techniques.

RIMPAC’s culminating exercise, SINKEX, saw a decommissioned US Navy vessel repeatedly targeted by aircraft and warships from participating nations, eventually sinking the vessel.

Another exercise in the Indo-Pacific is Pacific Dragon 2022, the location of which the US Indo-Pacific Command explained is an opportunity “to improve tactical and technical coordination and interoperability regarding regional air defense capability and anti-missile” between the participating navies.

Missile defense is a particularly critical capability to improve for the Indo-Pacific, as the military may attempt to conquer the extreme ranges of the region via barrages of long-range missiles rather than typical naval means. SEACAT differs from both RIMPAC and Pacific Dragon in focusing on visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) exercises rather than warfare at sea against a rival peer.

“The maritime domain is the backbone of the global economy and must remain free and open to function properly,” Vice Admiral Thomas said in the US Navy statement. “Our respective governments have all independently decided that it is also in our national interest to uphold the international standards that govern the maritime domain, and which are applied without prejudice to the benefit of each nation.”

Although SEACAT, RIMPAC and Pacific Dragon are regular maritime exercises, they have taken on new importance in recent years. The main driver of their newfound notoriety is China’s growing rhetoric and clear desire to seize Taiwan by force, a move that could spark a major regional war.

Given the dangers, it’s no wonder more Pacific nations are signing up for U.S. Navy exercises than ever before.

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and advocacy writer with National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. It covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson.

Image: US Navy/Flickr.

Brandon D. James