Panamanian Public Force Conducts Exercises for Interoceanic Canal Security

Panamanian Public Force Conducts Exercises for Interoceanic Canal Security

By Roberto López Dubois/Diálogo
September 24, 2021

Overseeing dangerous cargo in ports, boarding illicit smuggling vessels in Panamanian territorial waters, and responding to spills of toxic substances are some of the exercises that Panamanian security forces have carried out during PANAMAX Alpha 2021, an exercise held from mid-August to September.

PANAMAX Alpha is an annual exercise led by the Panamanian government, with the collaboration of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) to train and prepare Panamanian security forces so as to reach the necessary level of preparedness to prevent, mitigate, and detect threats to the security of the Panama Canal, through combined joint operations. PANAMAX Alpha consists of instruction in the classroom and field exercises on site.

The Panamanian National Air and Naval Service, National Border Service, Fire Department, and National Police are some of the institutions that took part in the first phase of the exercise, with more than 1,500 units. Units of SOUTHCOM’s Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo) joined in a second phase. In addition, officers from the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) provided formal instruction, training participants in military decision-making, joint planning process, and procedures for troop management, as well as teaching classes on human rights and joint logistics operations, among others.

Units of the Panamanian security forces, wearing hazmat suits, take part in a toxic substance spill exercise, during PANAMAX Alpha 2021. (Photo: Panamanian Joint Task Force Alpha)

“It is important to provide officers of the Panamanian Public Force the opportunity to carry out operations to measure capabilities and also to carry out combined operations in the binational phase with U.S. forces […], to protect the Panama Canal from an enemy that wants to damage the canal,” Panama’s National Police commissioner, Faustino Grajales, head of exercise PANAMAX Alpha, told Diálogo.

Ships from all over the world transit daily through the Panama Canal, which connects 160 countries to nearly 1,700 ports. About 14,000 vessels use the canal every year, according to the interoceanic canal’s official website micanaldepanamá.

Every year since 2007, exercise PANAMAX Alpha closely follows or precedes the multinational exercise PANAMAX, one of the largest exercises at the regional level, which SOUTHCOM organizes with the participation of Latin American and Caribbean military and security forces. The multinational exercise, carried out through real and simulated training scenarios off the coast of Panama and various places in the United States, also focuses on ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal, but with the support of the forces of the region. In mid-June, participants from 18 countries met in Miami to carry out PANAMAX 2021.

“This exercise [PANAMAX Alpha] has allowed capability planning and integration in the two [Panamanian and U.S.] forces,” Commissioner Grajales concluded. “In addition, PANAMAX Alpha will strengthen and update the tactical training of special forces in the new modalities that the threat uses, allowing us to establish a joint doctrine.”