U.S. and ASEAN join forces in historic exercise

People in uniform standing in rows on grassy area and saluting (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Greg Johnson)
The September 2 opening ceremony of a maritime exercise in Thailand (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Greg Johnson)

For the first time, military forces from the U.S. and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) teamed up for maritime exercises in the Indo-Pacific region.

More than 1,000 military personnel participated in the ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise (AUMX), which ran September 2–6.

“AUMX builds greater maritime security on the strength of ASEAN, the strength of our navy-to-navy bonds, and the strength of our shared belief in a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Rear Admiral Joey Tynch, who oversees the U.S. Navy’s security cooperation in Southeast Asia.

ASEAN consists of Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The exercise built and developed cooperation among the security forces of the different countries through realistic training scenarios.

Co-led by the U.S. and Royal Thai navies, AUMX consisted of pre-sail activities in Thailand, Singapore and Brunei. The exercise continued with a sea phase in international waters in Southeast Asia, including the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea. AUMX concluded in Singapore.

Though this was the first official U.S.-ASEAN exercise, the United States has a long history of partnering with allies in the Indo-Pacific and Southeast Asia.

“Our forces sail together during exercises throughout the year and have done so for decades,” said Vice Admiral Phil Sawyer, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet. This exercise provided “a new multilateral venue to work together on shared maritime security priorities in the region.”

More than a military relationship

Beyond military exercises, the United States and ASEAN are closely linked economically. The relationship goes back more than 40 years.

According to the State Department, ASEAN is the top destination for U.S. investment in the Indo-Pacific, totaling $329 billion. The United States is ASEAN’s 4th largest trading partner.

“The strategic partnership between the United States and ASEAN contributes to our shared vision of a rules-based, open, and inclusive Indo Pacific,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on the 52nd anniversary of the founding of ASEAN in August.