For First Time, Chile Leads Ground Component of Panamax 2016 Exercise
By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo August 23, 2016For the first time, the Chilean Army, in coordination with the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), directed the organizing and command of the ground component of the Panamax 2016 multinational exercise. The annual exercise brought together the Armed Forces of 19 Latin American countries to put into practice their capacities for guaranteeing security against terrorist threats at the Panama Canal and the surrounding areas. Between July 29th and August 5th, more than 70 members of the Armed Forces of various countries combined their aerial, ground, maritime, and cybernetic efforts to practice virtual operations in defense of the canal, both from the Chilean Army War Academy (ACAGUE, for its Spanish acronym) in Santiago and from various military bases in the United States. According to a report from the Chilean Army, José Antonio Gómez, the Chilean Minister of Defense, as well as General Huberto Oviedo, Commander in Chief of the Chilean Army, and deputy secretaries of defense for the Chilean Armed Forces attended the training event at ACAGUE. They participated in the presentation on the development of the international exercise. PANAMAX in Action The Chilean Army's leadership of the ground component signified an unprecedented milestone in the historical development of the exercise. The air and sea commands were headed by Colombia and Peru, respectively, while Brazil served as Overall Deputy Commander of the Multinational Force. The exercise was held under a resolution of the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council. "We appreciate that SOUTHCOM and the U.S. Army South trusted us to participate at this level from Chile. These challenges are the result of our maturing relationship over time," Chilean Army Major General Luis Chamorro, Commander of the ground component during the multinational exercise, told Diálogo. The main focus of the virtual exercise was a simulated confrontation between members of the Multinational Force and the violent extremist group Martyrs of Liberation, who attempted to take control of the Panama Canal. The U.N. requested the aid of the international military force to protect the important maritime route and to prevent the violent terrorists from advancing towards a fictitious country called New Centralia, on the border with Panama. To defend the Panama Canal, the Commanders of the Multinational Force began a strategic operation. "Various battalions made up of 5,104 men were mobilized to go to the fictitious Central American country. Their broad knowledge of the terrain allowed them to contain the terrorist threat and avoid a global catastrophe," Gen. Chamorro indicated. The simulation was carried out in five stages: unit deployment; initiation of the activity; taking control of the ground in all operations (in this phase, the ground component achieved control of the critical situation with unit deployment); in the fourth phase, the fictitious country was stabilized, and in the last stage, the transition took place in which the units return to their countries of origin. Military doctrine and communication became immediate challenges as the multinational exercise unfolded. "The biggest challenge we faced was the different doctrines of the participating countries for the development of the exercise. Each country has its own way of dealing with the military planning process. It is important for the development and the process of military planning to get on the same level in terms of knowledge of military doctrine," Gen. Chamorro said. Thanks to the efforts of the Chileans, the forces participating in the exercise benefited from the "Military Planning Process (PPM, for its Spanish acronym) Support Book." The book provides information on the military planning process that is necessary to solve military problems such as: the commander's vision, analysis of the mission, plan development and review, the confrontation, the target acquisition process, the battlefield integration process, relationship of the military planning process to intelligence assessment, and organizing the headquarters of joint forces. The book allows for knowledge to be standardized and for coordination and control of the exercise's air, sea, land, and special forces components. From a development point of view, another challenge for the forces was becoming familiarized with the exchange network for classified and secure information, which allows for better communication and coordination with ally countries. The Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System, known as CENTRIXS, is used by the U.S. Army. "We achieved a good connection. It wasn't easy at first. As the activity went on, our ability to use this type of equipment improved," Gen. Chamorro explained. "Language was not a barrier. We worked with interpreters in some cases. All of the challenges were adequately and efficiently sorted out with the valuable support of the U.S." The virtual operations that were conducted during Panamax 2016 afforded participants the opportunity to share techniques, tactics, and procedures on how to defeat a terrorist attack on the canal. Lessons Learned During the seven-day exercise, military personnel and members of the integrated general staff participated from Chile, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, the United States, Argentina, Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, and Uruguay. "Everyone who participated in this exercise was a winner. We are leaving with a lot of experience and knowledge, and also, the whole world wins because we have a Multinational Force that is prepared to act jointly and in a coordinated manner against terrorist threats," Chamorro pointed out. "The exercise has been a sucess. We have successfully carried out the established missions." Through this training, the United States "is transferring greater responsibility" to Chile as a relevant actor in terms of security in Latin America. "The Chilean Armed Forces and staff have demonstrated their capacity to organize and direct this type of exercise," indicated Miguel Navarro, researcher for the National Academy for Political and Strategic Studies in Santiago. History Panamax was created in 2003 as a military exercise among the navies of Panama, Chile, and the United States. In 2006, Panamax expanded its sphere of activity to incorporate land, air, and naval resources from the rest of the countries of the Americas. "Panamax is a necessary training activity, because the threat looming over the Panama Canal is not related to conventional threats, but it is a terrorist issue. And these types of actions need to be counteracted through international cooperation, especially now that the Canal has expanded, thus being more profitable for global commerce," Navarro concluded. The Panama Canal is a maritime link between 144 routes serving 1,700 ports in 160 countries worldwide. According to its website (micanaldepanama.com), its main users are the United States, Chile, China, Japan, and South Korea. Currently, the canal supplies 6 percent of global commerce, which is equivalent to 400 million metric tons of goods.