WASHINGTON– Ships, aircraft and personnel from 15 nations launched the most enduring maritime exercise within U.S. Southern Command’s area of responsibility Sept. 8, with scenarios designed to increase their ability to work together to address regional challenges and threats.
Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, the Southcom commander, joined Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon and other regional defense leaders in kicking off Unitas 2013 in Cartegena, Colombia.
Unitas, Latin for “unity,” is a combined South American and U.S- sponsored exercise series focused on building cooperation, understanding and partnership among participating navies.
The Colombian navy is hosting this year’s exercise, the 54th since the first in 1959.
“This is the oldest maritime security exercise in this part of the hemisphere,” Kelly noted in his welcoming remarks. “For 54 years, we’ve been learning from one another and improving communications and interoperability between our sailors and Marines. Maritime security in this hemisphere is much stronger now, thanks to these exercises.”
Operating in the Caribbean waters off Colombia through Sept. 15, the participants in Unitas 2013 will focuses on coalition building, multilateral security cooperation, tactical interoperability and mutual understanding among the participants, said Navy Rear Adm. Sinclair M. Harris, the U.S. 4th Fleet commander overseeing its execution.
The goal, 4th Fleet officials said, is to develop and test participating navies’ capabilities to respond as a unified force to a wide variety of maritime missions.
"While the overarching goal of the exercise is to develop and test command and control of forces at sea, training in this exercise will address the spectrum of maritime operations," Harris said. Scenarios are expected to include electronic, anti-air, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare as well as air defense and maritime interdiction operations.
The United States, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Peru and the United Kingdom are providing sea and air assets for this year’s exercise. In addition, Belize, El Salvador, Germany, Jamaica, Panama and Mexico have sent observers or other staff.
USS Rentz, a guided-missile frigate with two SH-60 Seahawk helicopters and Coast Guard Cutter Forward are among the U.S. forces taking part in the exercise. Other U.S. participants include P-3C Orion fixed-wing aircraft from the Navy’s Patrol Squadron 47, BQM-74 Chukar air drones and a drone team, a command element and a public affairs team. U.S. Navy Reserve augmentees are operating the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System friendly force tracker.