Operation UNITAS LIX Ends on a High Note

Operation UNITAS LIX Ends on a High Note

By Myriam Ortega/Diálogo
October 18, 2018

Ten partner nations met for the annual multinational maritime exercise, carried out this year in Colombia’s Caribbean waters.

The U.S. Navy’s longest-running multinational maritime exercise successfully wrapped up its demanding training in the Caribbean sea. Under the leadership of the Colombian Navy, Operation UNITAS LIX gathered more than 1,800 service members, 17 warships—including six foreign vessels—and 17 aircraft from 10 countries, August 31st–September 11th.

UNITAS LIX featured 70 naval exercises focused on humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations. Participating units also carried out surface and anti-aircraft warfare, diving exercises, maritime interdiction and control, search and rescue, and live fire, among other activities.

Service members from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Peru, the United Kingdom, and the United States put their interoperability capabilities to the test. Ecuador took part in the exercise after an 11-year absence.

“UNITAS lets us train to fight terrorism together, so we can defend democracy and national freedom,” said U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Linda Wackerman, deputy commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command. “Together we are stronger to confront the new security challenges that arise every day.”

Rescue and war operations

Among the exercises, participants focused their efforts on humanitarian and disaster relief operations. The multinational elements joined forces to face a fictitious earthquake in the Gulf of Morrosquillo off Colombia’s Caribbean coast, which required the creation of a multinational force and the deployment of air and naval vessels to support the affected population and mitigate the earthquake’s effects.

“This pointed to the need to create a multinational task force through a United Nations resolution to reach the area with different kinds of humanitarian aid,” said Vice Admiral Gabriel Pérez Garcés, commander of the Colombian Navy’s Caribbean Naval Force and commander of UNITAS LIX. “We needed to use amphibious landing ships that could reach coastal areas, provide support, and also guarantee security and clear transit in the sea off the coastline.”

Service members conducted combined search-and-rescue exercises on the ground and at sea. Colombian, Ecuadorean, Peruvian, and U.S divers also took part in exercises equipped with rescue gear and new underwater search and reconnaissance technologies, such as side-scan sonars that produce seabed images and remotely operated underwater vehicles.

“We were able to learn jointly thanks to the United States’ remarkable cutting-edge technological capabilities,” said Vice Adm. Pérez. “We know how sensitive search-and-rescue matters are and where we can use diving capabilities. This enabled us to grow in this sense.”

Aboard the USS Gunston Hall, Colombian and U.S. forces also conducted rappel exercises from a U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, assigned to Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras. At sea, service members carried out maritime control operations with patrol ships from Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and the United States. Units also conducted an anti-submarine warfare exercise with three Colombian submarines—ARC Tayrona, ARC Intrépido, and ARC Indomable—to detect and monitor the vessels.

“We integrated Colombian submarines in the initial work up, and conducted an anti-submarine warfare exercise to search for the submarine with a U.S. P8 war aircraft,” Colombian Navy Captain Luis Felipe Rojas, commander of the Submarine Fleet, told Diálogo. “Finally in the scenario phase, we put a submarine under the control of each force, so as to best tap into each unit’s capabilities.”

Excellent outcome

In addition to the simulated exercises, UNITAS LIX participants carried out a humanitarian campaign in Tierrabomba Island in Cartagena Bay, benefiting a local village. About 60 service members traveled to the island to entertain 180 children, donate a playground, whiteboards, double desks with chairs, textbooks, as well as sports and leisure supplies.

Conducted for the first time in 1960, UNITAS, from the Latin unity, is carried out yearly. The exercise enables the armed forces of participating partner nations to strengthen bonds of friendship, while generating cooperation and mutual understanding.

“I feel very proud and pleased with the operation’s results,” Vice Adm. Pérez said. “With the professionalism and leadership of unit commanders and their crews, preparation, readiness, and doctrine application were evident.”