Ships in formation participate in International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2013, which was conducted in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Sandberg)
MANAMA, Bahrain – International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2013 (IMCMEX 13) concluded at U.S. Naval Forces Central Command May 23, after two weeks of seminars and training operations in a wide spectrum of defensive operations designed to protect international commerce and trade.
“From my standpoint, the exercise has been a great success,” said Vice Adm. John W. Miller, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. “We had more than a week of very complex at-sea operations with both our partners from the region here and then from outside the region - in fact from across the entire globe - and we also had great participation from industry as well. From that standpoint, we are very pleased with the success of the exercise.
“We [also had] an opportunity to test a lot of technology, in particular, an opportunity to learn more about our UUVs, how well they worked how, to best utilize them,” said Miller.
Over 6,500 service members, 35 ships, and three Task Forces operated the length of the Gulf, through the Strait of Hormuz, and into the Gulf of Oman. Task Force platforms included helicopters conducting over 70 sorties, ships steaming over 8,000 nautical miles, and UUVs searching over 70 square nautical miles. More than 40 nations, including Japan, United Kingdom, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, France, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Norway, Netherlands, and Estonia, participated in the largest exercise of its kind in the region.
“We cannot constrain these exercises to merely mine countermeasures when the problem is clearly from port of departure to port of arrival. We have to include maritime security more broadly, and we have to include maritime infrastructure protection,” said Commodore Simon Ancona, RN, deputy commander, Combined Maritime Forces, and commander of this year’s International Maritime Exercise Force.
Mine countermeasures operations included ships, crews and observers underway to conduct training in at-sea maneuvers, mine hunting operations, helicopter operations, Explosive Ordnance Disposal operations, and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles. The exercise continued to validate the afloat staging base concept, employing the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary amphibious assault vessel RFA Cardigan Bay (L3009) and the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15), as a platform for mine countermeasures.
Maritime security operations focused on an outward facing force protection concept that provides a safe environment for ships to conduct MCM and MIP. These operations allow naval vessels to escort convoys and ensure that commercial shipping navigates safely through chokepoints and de-mined sea lanes for the free flow of international goods. The exercise also focused on naval forces and civilian mariners planning and executing a multi-national convoy including a large natural gas tanker through the Strait of Hormuz.
A three-day Maritime Infrastructure Protection Symposium provided an exchange of ideas as industry representatives discussed means to ensure the safety of maritime commerce through vital sea lanes and at strategic sea ports with senior leaders from participating countries. Maritime infrastructure protection (MIP) included close engagement with industry partners, conducting a table-top oil-spill exercise, and standing up a cell to coordinate military and civilian shipping. In addition, mass casualty drills that simulated maritime accidents extended the infrastructure protection concept to include medical triage and evacuation of injured personnel.
“We had representatives here as part of the exercise from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, [and] the Western Pacific,” said Miller. “That gives us a very good idea of the fact that many nations understand this is a global problem with global consequences that will require a global response.”
IMCMEX 13 took place in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, which encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water and includes the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean. Twenty countries comprise this expanse, which includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.