Two U.S. warships this week docked at Cam Ranh Bay, in the first such port call at the Vietnamese naval base since the two countries normalized relations 21 years ago, the U.S. Navy said Tuesday.

Submarine tender USS Frank Cable and guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain arrived at the deep-water naval base in Khanh Hoa province on Sunday, in a sign of warming military ties between the two countries.

Cam Ranh Bay was used by the French, U.S. and Russian navies in years past. Vietnam has recently made the base available to visiting foreign navy vessels in an attempt to maintain a strong international presence in the South China Sea amid maritime disputes with China. Apart from the U.S. warships, vessels from Japan, Russia and France have recently docked there.

Before stopping at Cam Ranh Bay, the John S. McCain made a port call in nearby Da Nang City, the U.S. Navy said.

The warships’ visit comes after the lifting of a U.S. embargo on sales of lethal weapons to Vietnam, announced during President Barack Obama’s visit to Hanoi in May. The decision was a milestone in America’s rapprochement with its old adversary and its broader pivot to Asia.

By Khanh Vu - The Wall Street Journal - October 4, 2016

1st US Warships Port at Cam Ranh Bay Since End of Vietnam War

Two U.S. Navy warships docked at Vietnam’s burgeoning South China Sea port.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS John S. McCain and the Emory S. Land-class submarine tender USS Frank Cable arrived in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam‘s strategically important South China Sea port, on October 2 for a scheduled port visit, according to a U.S. Pacific Command press release.

The visit of the U.S. warships – the first visit of commissioned U.S. Navy warships to Cam Ranh Bay since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 – comes in the wake of Hanoi and Washington celebrating the 21st anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations in 2016.

The U.S. and Vietnamese navies have a held a number of joint naval exercises over the past decade.

“NEA Naval Engagement Activity Vietnam has evolved from annual port visits to Da Nang by U.S. Navy ships, which began more than a decade ago, to a multi-day bilateral naval engagement ashore and at sea. Each year the engagement becomes more complex, and last year marked the first time a littoral combat ship, USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), participated,” U.S. Pacific Command notes.

(The Freedom-class LCS USS Forth Worth is at the moment out of action after suffering damage to its propulsion system caused by a human error in January.)

As my colleague Prashanth Parameswaran explained in The Diplomat, “though the United States refers to its naval interactions with Southeast Asian states such as the Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) and the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) as exercises, those with Vietnam continue to be referred to on their own as a Naval Engagement Activity (NEA).”

Prior to its arrival at Cam Ranh Bay, the USS John S. McCain participated in a search and rescue scenario and a communications exercise featuring the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES). The USS Frank Cable is one of one of two forward-deployed submarine tenders and is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. naval forces in the region.

While at Cam Ranh Bay, “sailors and military sealift command civilian mariners will have a chance to explore, learn, and share with the people of Vietnam,” the press release states. Furthermore U.S. Pacific Command notes that the NEA with Vietnam is “designed to foster mutual understanding, build confidence in the maritime domain, and develop relationships between the people and navies of both nations.”

Both U.S. Navy warships departed Vietnamese shores on October 4.

By Franz-Stefan Gady - The Diplomat - October 05, 2016