UNITAS 2019: A Model for Integration and Interoperability Between Navies

Brazil hosted the longest running maritime exercise in the Western Hemisphere.
Marcos Ommati/Diálogo | 5 September 2019

International Relations

Two Brazilian Navy helicopters prepare to take off. The expeditionary field hospital, installed for UNITAS 2019, is in the background. (Photo: Wagner Ziegelmeyer, Cria Studios)

A war operation, but focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief was the theme for the multinational maritime exercise UNITAS LX (the 60th edition), which concluded on August 30, 2019. Rio de Janeiro served as the backdrop for the event.

Brazilian service members disembark at Marambaia Island, exiting MB’s general cargo landing craft (L20). (Photo: Wagner Ziegelmeyer, Cria Studios)

The main objective of Exercise UNITAS 2019 was to develop a multinational task force and was carried out in two phases: a maritime (UNITAS LANT) and an amphibious phase (UNITAS AMPHIBIOUS). UNITAS LANT exercises, August 22-30, focused on anti-surface, air, and electronic warfare, as well as maritime interdiction operations.

During UNITAS AMPHIBIOUS, August 27-30, participants carried out a humanitarian assistance simulation at Marambaia Island, to the south of Rio de Janeiro state. In addition to Brazil, resources and delegations from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United Kingdom, and the United States (which has been organizing UNITAS since 1950) participated. Japan and Portugal took part as observers.

The exercise mobilized 10 Brazilian ships and four from other countries, various fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, an exercise control group (Combined Exercise Scenario Control Group), in addition to ground support, exceeding 3,300 service members. “Our training is as close to reality as possible, using members of the local community from countries we may assist in the future. This training can be applied in any country, in any humanitarian situation, anywhere in the world,” said Brazilian Navy (MB, in Portuguese) Admiral Leonardo Puntel, chief of Naval Operations.

Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force

In addition to the USS Carter Hall, assault amphibious vehicles (AAV), landing craft air cushion vehicles (LCAC Hovercraft), and hundreds of service members, the United States participated in UNITAS LX with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Southern Command (SPMAGTF-SC), a multinational special forces unit based in Honduras that can deploy and carry out specific operations in Latin America and the Caribbean. “UNITAS 2019 is just an incredible opportunity for the Marine Corps, and especially SPMAGTF-SC, to work with our partner nations in this huge, strategic level exercise, and actually do what they need to do to accomplish their mission. It’s a win-win situation for both the Marine Corps and partner nations,” said Major General Michael F. Fahey III, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South.

Two American LCAC vehicles approach the coast of Marambaia Island, as part of exercise UNITAS 2019. (Photo: Wagner Ziegelmeyer, Cria Studios)

An exercise carried out on August 27, at MB’s Marambaia Island Training Center, simulated the deployment of a humanitarian assistance task force (consisting of service members from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, and the United States) to a fictitious country that had been devastated by a hurricane.

Support vessels

With roads and airports destroyed, the only way to get to the location was by sea, through an amphibious landing. Ships anchored off the coast of the fictitious country, such as the Argentine Navy’s cargo ship ARA Bahía San Blas, MB’s Multipurpose Dock Ship Bahia (G40), and the U.S. Navy’s Landing Ship USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) were used as the support point for the humanitarian assistance sent to the country.

About 600 service members participated in the operation, said Brazilian Marine Corps Lieutenant General Paulo Martino Zuccaro, Fleet Marine Squad commander. AAVs from the Argentine Navy, MB, and the U.S. Navy, aboard a general cargo landing craft and two LCACs from the U.S. Navy, transferred service members, equipment, and other material required for the mission.

During the exercise, participants took the “wounded” to an expeditionary field hospital, built by MB. The U.S. Navy also installed a water filtering system that could generate up to 125 gallons of drinking water per hour, and desalination equipment.

Following the event’s closing ceremony on August 30, Captain José Negrete, director of Public Affairs with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South, said that “UNITAS LX can be considered a success, as we met our goal of expanding the three most important pillars of this exercise, which are: to strengthen relationships, to improve the interoperability, and to increase the rapid response of the navies from partner nations that joined the exercise, including the U.S.”

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