U.S., Peruvian, and Colombian Naval Forces Come Together for SIFOREX 2018
By Gonzalo Silva Infante/Diálogo May 23, 2018In the depths of the ocean off the coast of Peru, submarines navigate slowly, avoiding collisions, and evading pursuing aircraft. In the sky, aircraft crews closely monitor radars and acoustic data. Once they confirm targets locations, missiles are launched as part of the simulated exercise.
The training is part of the binational Silent Forces Exercise (SIFOREX), conducted between the Peruvian Navy and the U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (NAVSO) since 2001. SIFOREX 2018, which took place April 16th–24th off the Pacific coast of Callao, Peru, was the first to include a third naval force: the Colombian National Navy.
The biannual naval exercise promotes the development of anti-submarine warfare strategies and tactics involving diesel-electric submarines and provides a unique opportunity for crews to consolidate their knowledge. The exercise also strengthens bonds of friendship between participating naval forces, whether actively or as observers. The Brazilian and Argentine Navies took part as observers during SIFOREX 2018.
“SIFOREX had greater significance and value this year  for a few reasons. First, we opened our doors to other partner navies, allowing them to come and train along with us,” Peruvian Navy Captain Antonio Vildoso Concha, head of Operations of the Pacific Operations General Command, told Diálogo. “Second, anti-submarine warfare exercises are always worthwhile, both for us and for the U.S., because they allow us to train people and test equipment. Interoperability is always helpful.”
Next generation equipment
NAVSO participated with guided missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain, three Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft, and an MH-60 helicopter. Peru employed three submarines: the BAP Antofagasta, the BAP Pisagua, and the BAP Islay. For its first participation, Colombia deployed the submarine ARC Pijao S-28.
“The United States brought P-8s, which are next generation aircraft,” Capt. Vildoso said. “The [plane’s] control over an area using sonobuoys is impressive. They normally bring just one. This time, they brought three. For a submariner in a limited area, knowing that there are three planes with sonobuoys is a challenge. It’s good training.”
For U.S. Navy Captain Jen Ellinger, commander of the USS Lake Champlain, the challenging exercise was a success. “For me, as commander of a ship with these characteristics, it was a complex challenge because of how rough the Peruvian waters are and because of the professionalism of sailors navigating and operating in concert with other navies, which is the main goal of SIFOREX: interoperability.”
The exercises consisted of familiarizing aircraft and submarine crews with sounds to identify the different platforms in their surroundings. The sound of helicopter rotors, for instance, may lead a submarine crew to carry out diving maneuvers.
Under the complex underwater environment, submarines take advantage of temperature, salinity, currents, and other conditions at sea to evade sonobuoys—the sonar system aircraft use to detect them. For NAVSO members, the training is critical, since the U.S. Navy only has nuclear submarines, which are noisier.
“SIFOREX allows U.S. Navy resources to conduct anti-submarine warfare exercises against non-U.S. submarines in foreign waters,” Commander Mark Yehl, exercise director for NAVSO’s Plans Directorate and organizer of SIFOREX 2018, told Diálogo. “All submarines are different, and each has unique capacities and characteristics. This opportunity is a great training exercise for our crews, and it also allows us to learn from our partner nations.”
Search and evasion
Participants also conducted search and evasion missions, during which the USS Champlain followed the submarines’ traces. Another mock scenario involved confrontation between submarines. The exercise concluded with missile launches and artillery fire.
“It was seven days of navigation completely focused on anti-submarine warfare,” Capt. Vildoso said. “The last day consisted of artillery fire against a real target, which was a decommissioned ship.”
Participants completed 99 percent of planned exercises, or more than 50 anti-submarine warfare exercises, Capt. Vildoso said. These exercises allowed naval forces to strike a balance between crew performance, training, and mutual learning.
“[SIFOREX] is, first of all, an opportunity to establish lasting professional bonds with the Peruvian Navy and, this year, also with the Colombian [National] Navy,” Cmdr. Yehl said. “Secondly, SIFOREX is a great opportunity for U.S. Navy crews to train in anti-submarine warfare against experienced diesel submarine crews in their home waters, which gives the submarines a clear advantage. For the U.S. Navy, it was an honor and a privilege to participate in SIFOREX.”