From July 24th to 28th, members of Colombian, Costa Rican, Dominican, Honduran, Mexican, and Panamanian naval forces participated in the Seventh Central American and Caribbean War Games, which simulated response plans for the reconstruction and stabilization of a nation after a natural disaster. The training was held at the facilities of the Honduran Navy’s Joint Staff.
The Strategic Multinational Cabinet Exercise, better known as War Games, was created by the Mexican Navy in 2011. The mission is to find solutions to international crises through cooperation and interoperability between naval forces of Central America and the Caribbean, particularly during humanitarian aid efforts.
“This is the first time that these war games have been held outside Mexico. It’s also the first time that this exercise has been done in two phases: one long-distance and the other in person,” Honduran Navy Captain Héctor Tercero López, the chief of staff of Naval Operations, told Diálogo. “Being the host of these games is an acknowledgment of the efforts and professionalism of the Honduran Navy (FNH, per its Spanish acronym). We’re learning from nations that have come to help us, such as Mexico.”
Other Honduran institutions, such as the Army, the Air Force, the FNH’s Naval Leadership Training School, the Standing Committee for Contingencies (COPECO, per its Spanish acronym), and the International Red Cross, attended the exercise as observers. The Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC, per its Spanish acronym) also joined the group of observers.
This time, the Honduran National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA, per its Spanish acronym), through FNH, simulated the arrival of a hurricane called Gert to the hypothetical Island of Atlantis. The storm reached category 5, the maximum on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. This was similar to an event that occurred in 1988 when Hurricane Mitch passed through Honduras and Central America.
Atlantis, located south of Cuba, was battered by winds in excess of 250 kilometers per hour. The island faced a large-scale threat. Many died or went missing. The storm destroyed nearly all of the island’s infrastructure, as well as its flora and fauna. This weather event caused hunger, looting, violence, and the risk of epidemics.
Multinational force offsets the damage
In this scenario, humanitarian aid arrived at the request of the island’s authorities. The UN convened a multinational force to provide support to the island and to assist the population impacted by Hurricane Gert’s devastation.
“Each naval force implemented response plans to offset the damage to the island. Similarly, they worked together to form a multinational force that provided assistance through protection, prevention, and damage reduction,” Capt. Tercero remarked. “They also created the conditions necessary for Atlantis’s rebuilding and stabilization.”
FNH and the Mexican and Dominican navies promptly deployed their units, vessels, and aircraft to the north of the island. The Colombian Navy, the Costa Rican Coast Guard, and the Panamanian Air and Naval Service covered the southern part of Atlantis. Some vessels were equipped with mobile hospitals.
During the virtual mission, “the multinational force transported people, supplied food, performed logistics tasks, search-and-rescue operations, maritime and port security, maritime traffic control, and the restoration of order with strict adherence to human rights,” said Honduran Navy Captain José Jorge Fortín Aguilar, FNH’s chief of Training Operations and leader of the White Team during the 2017 Central American and Caribbean War Games, now in its this seventh edition. The White Team was responsible for mobilizing vessels, aircraft, personnel, and all provisions to virtually serve the affected population.
The aid effort had support from government institutions, local nongovernmental organizations, and private organizations in order to increase the capacity for an effective response in the wake of a hurricane. “To complete this mission, the Honduran Navy held a series of remote workshops (phase one) with all of the naval personnel who would be attending the in-person phase of the virtual exercise to brief them on the mission that they would be conducting,” Capt. Fortín explained. These remote workshops were held during the first week of June.
Challenges and advance planning
“The planning and unification of criteria to define the best course of action that would favor mission completion were the main challenges during the in-person phase. After 48 hours, the most suitable course of action was established,” Capt. Fortín stated. “The participating naval forces were able to standardize their criteria for conducting the exercise, making sure that everything turned out the best way possible.”
Because of their geographical location and weather conditions, Central America and the Caribbean are prone to hurricanes. One of the last storms to impact the region was Hurricane Matthew (September-October 2016), which left more than 1,000 dead as it passed through Haiti.
“Being nations that are prone to nature’s fury, these seven War Games have generated knowledge and skills that will allow the combined naval forces to respond immediately,” Capt. Fortín said. “There must always be advance planning. In emergency situations, the armed forces are the first to arrive and the last to leave.”
“For the Honduran Navy, these Seventh War Games also represent an ideal opportunity for young officers from the Naval Leadership Training School, who acquired better experience on how to respond to future situations in the region,” Capt. Tercero concluded. “In 2018, the Eighth War Games will be held in Colombia.”