Participants of Operation Atlasur 2018 carried out exercises under the theme of drugs, arms, and human trafficking, August 31st–September 20th. “The theme varies with each edition. However, exercises always focus on establishing and maintaining the safety of the South Atlantic,” said Captain Rogério Salles Rodrigues da Silva, head of the Training and Resource Utilization Division of the Brazilian Navy’s (MB, in Portuguese) Naval Operations Command.
South Africa hosted the 11th edition of the exercise with Brazil and Uruguay as participants. The Argentine Navy, for the first time since the 1990s, didn’t take part in Atlasur as it committed its ships to other activities.
More than 700 service members, four ships, one submarine, and four aircraft deployed in combat drills. The objectives of the exercises were “to get ships acquainted with one another and promote the training of young officers in surveillance and navigation,” South African Navy Commander Abdul Sayed said.
Brazil deployed 190 service members, including nine units from the Combat Divers Group. Brazilian elements also counted on a UH-12 Esquilo helicopter and the Barroso corvette, flagship of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
Uruguay sent 140 service members, including a special Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) unit. The nation also deployed the General Artigas frigate and an A-071 Esquilo helicopter.
As the host, South Africa mobilized the most resources, with more than 300 service members. The Amatola frigate, the hydrographic vessel Protea, the Manthatisi submarine, and other smaller vessels took part in the exercise. Units from South Africa’s Air Force and Military Health Service Task Force also participated.
According to Capt. Rogério, drug traffickers often use Brazilian maritime routes to reach Africa and Europe. “Criminals use different means of transport such as merchant vessels, fishing boats, sports or recreational boats such as sailboats,” he said. The scenario, which included illegal drug, arms, and human trafficking, served as the backdrop for exercises of Operation Atlasur’s two phases.
Participants carried out the first phase in the False Bay region, on the western coast of South Africa, September 6th-14th. Activities included live fire exercises against determined targets, as well as simulated air and submarine attacks. In addition to ship crew members, MB’s combat divers, Uruguay’s VBSS unit, and service members from the South African Maritime Reaction Squadron participated.
Following a two-day resting period, participants kicked off the second phase, September 17th–20th. During this phase, Service members carried out additional live-fire exercises and simulated air and submarine attacks. Participants also conducted search and rescue operations. The South African Navy counted on support of service members from the South African Air Force and Army during both phases of the exercise.
Learning from transatlantic cooperation
“Forces don’t necessarily operate the same way when carrying out a similar operation, either due to differences in operational culture or characteristics of the environment and resources involved,” said Capt. Rogério, with regard to lessons MB learned after participating in the operation. “As such, working with other countries allows us to learn from each other about alternative forms of operating and access best practices when conducting a mission,” he said.
Participants also emphasized the friendship gained among service members thanks to the exercise. “We do many things together. We have a common border in the middle of the sea, but what matters most to me is getting to know people. If I need anything, I must know who to talk to in the South African Navy,” said Uruguayan Navy Captain Carlos Cóccaro.
Operation Atlasur was created in 1922, following the Uruguayan Navy’s first official visit to the Republic of South Africa. Since then, the Brazilian and Argentine navies take part in the biennial exercise. The four countries take turns coordinating the exercise.