'CARAT' Singapore 2015 exercise could be expanded in future operations.Kelvin Wong, Jane's Defence Weekly
19 July 2015
SINGAPORE – A U.S. Navy (USN) Boeing P-8A Poseidon multimission maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) is participating in a series of challenging anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare (ASW and ASuW) missions during the annual 'Co-operation Afloat Readiness and Training' ('CARAT') Singapore exercise currently being held.
The P-8A operated by Patrol Squadron (VP)-45 'Pelicans' – based in Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Florida, but currently forward deployed to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, on a seven-month rotation – is flying missions from Singapore's Paya Lebar Air Base (PLAB) during the sea phase of the exercise.
VP-45 arrived in the USN's 7th Fleet area of operations (AOR) in January 2015 after a year-long inter-deployment readiness cycle (IDRC) to prepare for its inaugural deployment to the AOR, following its transition from the Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion MPA to the P-8A platform in early 2014. The Pelicans, which currently operates six P-8As,
formally relieved the aircraft and crew of VP-5 'Mad Foxes' on the conclusion of the latter's deployment on 10 February.
During a three-hour maritime domain awareness (MDA) flight aboard VP-45's P-8A on 16 July, which demonstrated the aircraft's low-altitude maritime surveillance and patrol capabilities in both the littoral and open ocean environment, mission commander Lieutenant Matt Pool – who transitioned from the turboprop-powered P-3C – highlighted the advantages of the twin CFM International CFM56-7B27A high-bypass turbofan engines of the newer platform.
"[From my perspective] we may burn slightly more fuel per flight hour at lower altitudes, but that's offset by the additional fuel that we can carry," he told a group of reporters aboard the flight. "So what we lose at low altitudes because we are not a turboprop aircraft any more, the efficiency of the engines at higher altitudes – we can fly at 35,000 ft while we are transiting [to the operational area] – more than makes up for the additional fuel-burn on station."
Tactical coordinator Lieutenant Greg Stewart briefed media on the role of VP-45 in 'CARAT' Singapore, which will be providing support for the ASW and ASuW missions during the exercise. The aircraft will be functioning as an airborne command-and-control centre to co-ordinate USN and Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) surface and air assets operating on and over international waters in the South China Sea using a range of communication systems such as Link 11, which is a shared tactical datalink that enables both navies to exchange digital information.
Speaking to IHS Jane's on the sidelines during the flight, Lt Stewart also noted that ASW operations in littoral waters against diesel-electric submarines (SSKs) present a set of unique challenges for his mission operators.
"In general diesel-electric submarines definitely present a challenge on how we execute search tactics to go find them, particularly when considering that these platforms don't require a cooling pump like nuclear submarines [running continuously to cool reactors] and also their ability to shut [their diesel generators] off," he said. "They can also hide closer to shore and are usually smaller so they don't have an issue with bottoming, so that makes them more difficult to find as well."
"Doing ASW in littoral waters is also another challenge because you are worried about the [complex] topography and the increased shipping activity that happens closer to shore," he further explained. "So exercises like 'CARAT' Singapore, where we are going to be operating in the shallower littoral waters with [and against] other high-end capabilities, are opportunities that enable us to improve our experience and expertise and bring it back to our squadron."
The sea phase of 'CARAT' Singapore 2015, which is being conducted from 19-23 July, will focus on honing a range of high-end naval warfare capabilities against sub-surface, surface, and airborne threats, and is expected to culminate in a joint torpedo-firing exercise (TORPEX) on 22 July.
The exercise will also feature the augural deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAV embarked aboard the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) USS Fort Worth as part of its composite helicopter detachment, and two RSN Boeing-Insitu ScanEagle UAVs that will be launched from the Victory-class guided-missile corvettes RSS Valour and RSS Vigour.
In addition to the aforementioned assets, the USN will also be deploying the Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Houston , the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen and an embarked MH-60R Seahawk Romeo naval helicopter, and the Henry J Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler USNS Pecos . Singapore assets also include the RSN's Archer-class submarine RSS Archer, Fearless-class patrol vessel RSS Fearless , and the Formidable-class frigates RSS Intrepid and RSS Supreme . The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) will be contributing a range of aircraft, including a Sikorsky-S-70B Seahawk naval helicopter, a Fokker 50 MPA, while a Boeing F-15SG strike fighter will also debut at this year's exercise.
Now in its 21st year, 'CARAT' is a series of bilateral naval exercises conducted by the USN's 7th Fleet with several ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members and other south Asian nations. CARAT participant countries currently include Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Timor-Leste.
IHS Jane's was also told during an exclusive interview aboard the 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge on 4 May that the scale and scope of future 'CARAT' exercises could expand in size and scope to include multilateral drills between partner countries.