The United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) headquarters are in a flurry. Once again, their personnel enthusiastically prepares to start the PANAMAX 2012 military exercise, and this time with a record 17 countries participating.
PANAMAX 2012 is an annual event organized by SOUTHCOM, and composed of a series of military exercises that focus on guaranteeing the defense of the Panama Canal, one of the most strategic and economically paramount infrastructures of the world. The region’s economy and political stability depend in large scale on the safe transportation of hundreds of millions of tons of cargo through the canal.
PANAMAX 2012 will take place from Aug. 6-17, and will start with an opening ceremony at the Mayport Naval Station, in Florida. For 11 days, participants from Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, United States, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and the Dominican Republic will respond as one force to an ample variety of air, land, sea, space and cyberspace missions. The combined multinational operations are key to the unification of technology and the implementation of common operative procedures.
According to General Douglas Fraser, SOUTHCOM Commander, “PANAMAX 2012 gives us a great opportunity, because we are going to be sharing and building a partnership in training with individuals from our partner nations, (…) so we can really learn from one another how to work better into the future.” This year, Colombia will once again command the ground forces, like in 2011, while Brazil will direct sea operations for the first time.
The PANAMAX 2012 exercises are based on a fictitious threat and they are designed to respond to solicitations from the Panamanian and Colombian governments to protect and ensure safe passage through the canal, guaranteeing their neutrality and national sovereignty.
Although the main intention of the exercise is to defend the canal physically, the 2012 event will take place in several places within the United States, like Fort Sam Houston and San Antonio, Texas. In Florida, it will take place in Miami and the Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, among others.
This year, the military exercise will focus on tactical execution and potential problem control that could arise in a real emergency scenario caused by natural disasters or terrorist attacks, to cite examples. This gives the participants the opportunity to exercise operations that do not require vessels, aircrafts or ground personnel. According to SOUTHCOM, the decision to host these activities outside of Panama is based on today’s economical realities and the need to rethink tactical operations.
The Western Hemisphere partner nation participant will acquire valuable experience in terms of defending the canal, as well as aiding in humanitarian operations and responding to natural disasters, such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Furthermore, the participants will have the opportunity to develop lasting relationships that will be beneficial to the region’s security.
PANAMAX started in 2003 with Panama, Chile and the United States being the first nations to simulate the canal’s defense.
Crossing from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific through the Panama Canal avoids ships from having to navigate through the long and treacherous Cape Horn route around the southernmost point of South America, and ride the dangerous waters of the Strait of Magellan. Inaugurated on Aug. 15, 1914, the canal continues to be a strategic point for world-wide commerce.