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McCain Pushing for More U.S. Naval Engagement with Vietnam

Lt. (jg) Travis Harlow, training officer aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93), explains his job responsibilities to senior leaders from the Vietnam People’s Navy in 2013. US Navy Photo

Lt. (jg) Travis Harlow, training officer aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93), explains his job responsibilities to senior leaders from the Vietnam People’s Navy in 2013. US Navy Photo

The chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee is pushing for more interaction between the U.S. and Vietnamese navies, according to a copy of a May 20 letter to Vietnamese Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong obtained by USNI News.

In the letter, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Trong he was “committed to helping build the maritime capacity of the Vietnamese Coast Guard and Navy” and pushed to expand the sharing of maritime domain information with all South China Sea nations as part of the Maritime Security Initiative, unveiled by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter last month and pushed by McCain.

As part of the more than $425 million in MSI funds, the Pentagon committed to $1.8 million to assess Vietnam’s current set of capabilities and chart future needs for the Vietnamese Coast Guard and the Vietnam People’s Navy.

Ultimately the chief concern of both Hanoi and Washington is the rising naval power of China. Beijing has not only embarked on an intensive warship construction campaign but also built the quasi-military China Coast Guard into a force of more than 200 mostly former People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels.

McCain also called for an increased bilateral cooperation between the VPN and the U.S. Navy by increasing port visits, inviting the Vietnam People’s Navy to future Rim of the Pacific international exercises off of Hawaii and more officer exchanges.

140407-N-YU572-329 DA NANG, Vietnam (April 7, 2014) Members of the Vietnam People’s Navy depart the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) following a shipboard tour in support of Naval Engagement Activity (NEA) Vietnam. The NEA provides opportunities for U.S and Vietnamese naval professionals to share best practices and maritime skills in non-combatant areas, such as military medicine, search and rescue, diving and salvage and shipboard damage control. Approximately 400 U.S. Navy Sailors and civilian mariners are participating in NEA Vietnam 2014. (U.S Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jay C. Pugh/Released)

Members of the Vietnam People’s Navy depart the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) in 2014. US Navy Photo

Over the last several years, the U.S. and the VPN have conducted limited Naval Engagement Activities (NEA) with mostly onshore training and brief at-sea periods, and the U.S. is looking to step up the engagement.

USNI News understands U.S. officials have offered Hanoi a plan for a regular series of bilateral naval exercises in which a U.S. ship would conduct a two-day port visit to Da Nang, two days of at-sea exercises and three days of in-port visits at Cam Ranh Bay.

The 2-2-3 plan has yet to be adopted by the Vietnamese. But the so-called ‘McCain Initiative’ – as it is known by U.S. officials in the region – would be the next step in improving cooperation between the navies. USNI News understands the first visit could happen later this year.

The letter to Trang, who McCain met with in Washington last year, came a week ahead of President Barack Obama’s state visit to Vietnam and his Monday announcement of the official lifting the U.S. arms embargo.

While the goal is increased military-to-military cooperation, McCain and Obama both also encouraged Vietnam to also improve its human rights record.

“As we continue to enhance our security partnership, the United States expects Vietnam to continue its progress on human rights and respect for civil society, including its respect for advocates of religious freedom, press freedom, and labor rights who seek to use peaceful means to build a strong and prosperous Vietnam,” McCain wrote.

  • Ed L

    Well, I hope we don’t mess up Vietnam by trying to sell them an LCS. We should just let them buy those refurbish S-3 from Lockheed for there ASW and Maritime Search and Rescue. along with the purchase of those India’s missiles.

  • Emily Han

    Everything about the US is expensive, slow and divisive by the fast-paced Asian theater: the 1st and only American military aid for post-war Vietnam is a couple of Metal Shark Coast Guard canoes that cost 18 millions, no weaponry and still sitting in Louisiana since 2013 while Vietnam Coast Guards have launched domestically, made 7 ships of 1,000-4,300 tons during the time. Vietnam Navy also received 5 of 6 Russian made Kilos submarines, 4 of 6 light frigates and built 10+ missiles corvettes in their confrontation with China…Where’s the US going with these talks?

    • Donald Carey

      Russia has been friends with Vietnam for decades – nothing new here.

      • Emily Han

        The cost of integrating brand new American technology is expensive and time-consuming. It would be 10+ years before any noticeable US weapon systems arriving in Vietnam. More reasonable are few P-3 Orion, C-130 Hercules (Russia does not have and Vietnam needs), some used fighter jets and light technologies…

    • old guy

      If we ever get serious about the field of GRADED RESPONHSE we would build a fleet if upgraded PHMs. Our old ones could chase, catch and knock out any surface ship afloat by just adding 4 PT style torpedoes, or any sub by adding an old SQR-19. GO to FOILS>ORG for the pictures and specs of a REAL LCS. which the NAVY hated because you couldn’t make flag from being a squadron leader (of which we only had one). The last one, Capt. Frank horn is still alive and kicking.

  • John B. Morgen

    A working relationship between the two nation-states could benefit us by allowing us to use our former naval bases, and maybe naval bases in the northern part of Vietnam. This relationship will have an instant impact with China’s leadership, and China’s policies for the South China Sea. Now is the time to advent the SEATO, but with Vietnam as a member.

    • Emily Han

      Given the divisiveness of current ASEAN. SEATO is impossible and Vietnam is already a member of ASEAN, anyway.

      • John B. Morgen

        A new SEATO could work within the current ASEAN because if the EU defense organization has been working well within NATO’s shadows for a quite sometime now. I don’t see any problems here because the ASEAN is really a [mini UN].

  • old guy

    Why not GIVE them a few LCSs. That will keep them busy and out of trouble. While we’re at it, through in Obummer for good measure.

    • Ed L

      I would not even give the North Koreans an LCS. No one deserves such a weak vessel.