The Ecuadorean Navy and 13 naval forces from the Americas and Europe will deploy their military power in Colombia’s Caribbean waters for UNITAS LIX-18, August 30th-September 12th. U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (NAVSO) will lead the U.S. Southern Command-sponsored exercise. The Colombian Navy will host the largest maritime war exercise for the fourth time.
“Ecuador rejoined every multinational event concerning naval operations. It’s been a challenge. We did it starting with the first planning meetings, and now it’s real, with the missile corvette BAE Esmeraldas, a maritime surveillance aircraft, a transport aircraft, a helicopter, and assigned personnel,” Ecuadorean Navy Rear Admiral Darwin Jarrín Cisneros, commander of Naval Operations, told Diálogo. “The challenge goes hand in hand with our participation at the PANAMAX  military exercise, and as observers of the maritime component of RIMPAC  for the first time.”
Since 1960, UNITAS has been the U.S. Navy’s largest maritime exercise. Its goal is to keep naval forces of Latin American partner nations trained and intensify their combined capabilities to protect human lives at sea, as well as keep the nations’ regional and continental maritime interests within international law.
Navies from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, England, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and the United States, will take part in the exercise. Joint naval operations during maritime interdiction, anti-surface warfare, and the fight against transnational organized crime are among the exercises to be carried out.
“We must work in an integrated way with the navies of neighboring nations, with partner nations, because the threats and risks we face are massive and violent [due to] narcotrafficking, illegal fishing, and natural disasters. The problem goes beyond Ecuador and is regional and worldwide,” Rear Adm. Jarrín said. “The exercises allow Ecuador to navigate along with navies of the region to strengthen bonds of friendship and guarantee security.”
“We build partnerships, we build friendships, and we develop trust,” Rear Admiral Sean Buck, commander of NAVSO, told the press. “Trust cannot be surged, it cannot just appear in a time of crisis, it has to be grown and earned over time, and these exercises serve to do just that.”
Making up for lost time
During UNITAS, navies carry out different naval operations such as surface maneuvering, anti-aircraft defense, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, submarine and diving exercises, and studies of meteorology, hydrography, and oceanography. “The activities enable our navy to keep up to date, strengthen its training level, exchange knowledge and experiences with navies that participate on an ongoing basis in all these operations, and work in a joint, combined way against any kind of threat,” said Rear Adm. Jarrín.
Ecuadorean service members will join the UNITAS LIX-18 Operational Task Force and take part in a humanitarian aid operation to benefit the Colombian community. “We will be working at all levels, in its development as well as in operations,” Rear Adm. Jarrín said. “We resume our path, and we want to do it with all our commitment and enthusiasm, because we have to make up for lost time and recover our level of training in multinational exercises.”
A new way of thinking
“We have to visualize increasingly complex scenarios and rethink traditional concepts of sovereignty, the use of resources and the armed forces, based on what the world demands,” Rear Adm. Jarrín said. “We might think of multiple-flag ships, regional crew ships, even a naval unit that operates with a Colombian-Ecuadorean or an Ecuadorean-Peruvian crew, or all three nationalities, so that state force can be used wherever, even on open seas. Narcotrafficking or illegal fishing must be seen as aggressions against the whole inter-American system.”
Rear Adm. Jarrín said that navies must also take into account increasingly complex humanitarian aid operations for disaster relief. The Ecuadorean government requested help from partner nations and received international support after the 2016 earthquake, he said, adding that the Colombian and Peruvian navies joined efforts and capabilities to help Ecuadoreans.
“Given the complex threats spanning the Western Hemisphere, it’s impossible to establish true security and rule of law without a comprehensive, multinational maritime strategy,” Major General David G. Bellon, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South, told the press. “To be effective, this strategy must incorporate all of our countries working together to deter transregional crime and mitigate the human suffering caused by natural disasters.”
Ecuador’s Plan to Strengthen Naval Power, in place until 2030, involves renewing security infrastructure of maritime spaces, modernizing two submarine units, strengthening control capabilities of the Marine Corps, and restoring to service the Manabí and Loja corvettes. The plan also includes restoring air maritime surveillance capabilities and system efficiency. “These needs are being executed, and they are necessary to participate in multinational exercises. We have to start very, very slowly,” Rear Adm. Jarrín said.