The biannual exercise brings together the special forces of both nations in a simulated conflict scenario to reinforce regional security.
For almost two weeks, the port region of Antofagasta in northern Chile was the scene of a joint and combined exercise for Chilean and U.S. special forces. The Southern Star 2018 exercise coordinated by the Chilean Joint Chiefs of Staff (EMCO, in Spanish) with the support of U.S. Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), tested participating units in air, sea, and land simulated operations.
Southern Star 2018 gathered 1,023 Chilean and 53 U.S. service members, August 20th-29th. Chile participated with the Army Special Operations Brigade, the Navy Special Forces Command, and the Air Force Special Forces Group, while the U.S. counted on SOCSOUTH, the Army 7th Special Forces Group, troops of the Naval Special Warfare Command, and units of the Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Control, among others. Officers from Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Spain, and the United Kingdom participated as observers.
The biannual exercise seeks to assess the planning, management, and command processes of participants in simulated joint and combined scenarios. The goal is to strengthen Chilean and U.S. special forces’ interoperability and operational capabilities.
“The training was very relevant for those who participated,” U.S. Sergeant Fist Class Alexis Ramos, Public Affairs, noncommissioned officer in charge, SOCSOUTH, told Diálogo. “Anytime we are able to rub elbows with our partners and exchange ideas is a great thing for both nations, because opportunities like these allow us to increase our capacities and interoperability.”
In the Atacama Desert and on the Pacific coast of Antofagasta, Chilean and U.S. officers joined forces to neutralize terrorist cells and put an end to internal conflicts affecting the fictitious island of Chiland. In a simulated scenario, the United Nations ordered an international intervention with the deployment of combined forces to restore peace on the island.
“One of the advantages [of the location] is that there are military flight zones that allow for 24-hour operations, night flights, and with less restrictions on the use of weapons and real ammunition,” Major General Pablo Müller Barbería, commander of the Chilean Army Special Operations Task Force and leader of the joint and combined forces of Southern Star 2018, told Diálogo. “There are also landing sites to carry out amphibious and insertion operations. Finally, the specific characteristics of the Chilean desert, with its different landscapes similar to Iraq and Afghanistan, makes it appealing for service members of partner nations who take part in the exercise.”
The scenarios included infiltration and extraction maneuvers in hostile territory, terrorist confrontations, hostage liberation, and rescue operations. The units also carried out boarding missions, air and land assault, and cybersecurity operations to counter terrorist actions.
Among the exercises carried out, Chilean Air Force F-16 fighters overflew the steep hills of the desert and destroyed targets on land, allowing armored vehicles to move in and secure the area. Special Forces of the Chilean Army and their U.S. counterparts supported the operation on the ground with fast-rope insertion from helicopters.
On another occasion, the special forces captured a merchant ship that refused to cooperate on the coast. Chilean Navy tactical divers boarded the ship from the Naval Aviation AS365 Dauphin helicopter, while a U.S. Navy SEAL team boarded from a Defender speedboat. The teams searched the ship with the support of air snipers.
“The simulated scenarios were designed to challenge the joint staff to think critically and work through the military decision-making process,” Sgt. 1st Class Ramos said. “The exercise provided an opportunity to exercise planning, execution, support, and command and control procedures in a combined and joint environment at the operational and tactical level, helping us improve our shared understanding and capabilities.”
Commitment to regional security
“[Southern Star 2018] was very positive. We verified, under high standards, the efficiency and deployment of capabilities of this type of special units that interoperated without any problem,” said Maj. Gen. Müller. “However, there are always lessons learned that allow us to improve integration processes and complement capabilities.”
Coordinated by EMCO and SOCSOUTH, Southern Star is carried out jointly in Chile since 2007. In 2009, troops from Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay joined the Chilean-U.S. training for the first and only time. Since 2015, the exercise alternates each year with the U.S.-based Northern Star exercise. The next edition of Southern Star will be in 2020.
“As we move forward, you will see Chile continue to lead [Southern Star] with the U.S. being there for support,” Sgt. 1st. Class Ramos concluded. “Both the U.S. and Chile are committed to regional security, and [Southern Star] is one way we improve together.”