The Chilean Navy and its ocean patrol vessel OPV-82 Toro participated in international exercise UNITAS LXIV, held in Cartagena, Colombia July 11-21.
The U.S. Southern Command-led exercise brought together 20 countries from four continents, some 4,500 members of the armed forces, with 23 warships, three submarines, and 29 aircraft.
UNITAS activities included training such as fast rope descents by Special Forces, cybersecurity exercises, artillery exercises, missile launches, and navigation in formations, among others.
Chilean Navy Commander Ignacio Pájaro Márquez, liaison officer of Naval Operations Command for UNITAS LXIV, spoke with Diálogo about Chile’s experience in the exercise.
Diálogo: How important was it for the Chilean Navy to participate in UNITAS LXIV in Cartagena, Colombia?
Chilean Navy Commander Ignacio Pájaro Márquez, liaison officer of Naval Operations Command for UNITAS LXIV: The UNITAS exercise, in its 64th version, undoubtedly constitutes the oldest and most continuous combined exercise in the region, reaching on this occasion a double importance, which is first of all to be an opportunity to update our interoperation procedures with the armed forces of the 20 participating countries, and at the same time, to be the prelude to the bicentennial of the host Navy, the Colombian Navy.
Diálogo: Why was the ocean patrol vessel OPV-82 Toro chosen to participate in UNITAS? What are its capabilities?
Cmdr. Pájaro: The ocean patrol vessel OPV Toro was built by the Navy’s shipyards and commissioned to the Chilean Navy in 2009. Given its versatility and multiplicity of roles — among which we find: surveillance and control of the exclusive economic zone, search and rescue, control and combat of aquatic pollution, maintenance of maritime signaling, and logistics support to isolated areas —the selected unit has the most appropriate capabilities for the exercise scenario, allowing the incorporation of experiences of combined maritime operations in the Caribbean.
Among the capabilities of the OPV Toro, it can be mentioned that it has a displacement of 1,728 tons, a length of 80.6 meters, and a maximum speed of 20 knots. In addition, it has two Wartsila model 12V26 engines of 4800 kW.
Diálogo: What did the Chilean Navy deploy to participate in UNITAS?
Cmdr. Pájaro: For this occasion, the Chilean Navy deployed an ocean patrol boat under the command of Captain Daniel Kopaitic, a squadron of Marines under the command of Second Lieutenant Cristóbal Torres and, additionally, a planning team from Naval Operations Command. A relevant fact for this version of the exercise is the incorporation of institutional personnel in the first cybersecurity exercise within the framework of the operation, the activity addressed the topics of cybersecurity, cyberdefense, and cyber intelligence, facing with two teams the threats in this field, in a maritime environment.
Diálogo: How does UNITAS increase the levels of interoperability in the Chilean Navy?
Cmdr. Pájaro: Developing a combined exercise of this magnitude is a real challenge for the Chilean Navy in operational and logistics terms, if we consider that this year’s version included the participation of 23 warships, three submarines, 29 aircraft (15 planes and 14 helicopters) and approximately 4,500 people from 20 countries. Its planning requires many hours of meetings and coordination, achieving the most important objective of the exercise, which is to get to know members of other navies, share procedures and interoperate with the participating navies.
Diálogo: What is the added value of participating in UNITAS, the most continuous naval exercise that the U.S. Navy conducts with countries in the region?
Cmdr. Pájaro: The added value of a combined operation of this magnitude is the volume of means deployed and the development of a planning process with members of other partner navies. Nevertheless, the interaction with crews from naval, land, and air units from the 20 countries participating on this occasion provides ties that last over time and facilitate learning and experience exchange.
Diálogo: The Chilean Navy has participated in several versions of UNITAS and has hosted the event. What are the lessons learned from this participation?
Cmdr. Pájaro: In 2024, the Chilean Navy will host this combined exercise for the seventh time. Over the years, the modification of scenarios; threats; natural, health, and technological phenomena allow us to create scenarios with a multiplicity of actors and threats, which is why a forceful response to them is closer to a multinational organization than to the individual problems of each state. Thus, the main lesson learned in UNITAS is that the development of a coordinated response by nations seems to be more efficient and effective in today’s scenarios.
Diálogo: How has UNITAS strengthened Chile’s naval operations to counter threats at sea, especially in the fight against drug trafficking?
Cmdr. Pájaro: UNITAS has been an extremely important training body for confronting this type of threat, as well as for transferring experiences, protocols, and procedures for configuring a multinational response, when required, in any of the affected maritime spaces.
Diálogo: What is Chile’s contribution to UNITAS?
Cmdr Pájaro: The Chilean Navy contributes different experiences to the nations participating in the UNITAS exercise, hosting it on multiple occasions. Perhaps, one of the most remarkable aspects with what our Navy contributes, is the experience in planning combined exercises, an area in which in 2018, we were the first non-English speaking country to lead the maritime component of the RIMPAC exercise. Additionally, our experience to face natural or sanitary catastrophes among others, constitutes a real organizational, logistics, and coordination challenge, both in the arrival of humanitarian aid from anywhere in the world and coordination of actions of the most diverse type.