UNITAS LX Strengthens International Cooperation Among 15 Countries

Naval forces of the Americas and other regions build a team to respond to threats.
Julieta Pelcastre / Diálogo | 30 July 2019

Capacity Building

More than 1,800 sailors and naval officers from 15 navies took part in the 60th edition of UNITAS, conducted in Chile June 24-July 3, 2019. (Photo: Chilean Navy)

For the sixth time, the Chilean Navy hosted the international naval exercise UNITAS, carried out in the port cities of Valparaíso and Coquimbo, June 24-July 3, 2019. More than 1,800 sailors and naval officers participated in the annual exercise to strengthen international cooperation and security operations, so as to confront together any threat against partner nations.

“We are preparing in a joint and combined way to operate as one force,” Chilean Navy Rear Admiral Yerko Marcic, commander in chief of the Chilean Navy Squadron and leader of the exercise, told Diálogo. “The unrestricted use of the seas is a fundamental condition for prosperity and development. It is becoming more and more necessary to protect maritime areas and lines of communication.”

UNITAS (Latin for “unity”) is the world’s longest-running multinational maritime exercise. It has been held since 1959, as part of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, sponsored by U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet. Since 2001, the training has been designed in two phases: Pacific and Atlantic. The last time Chile hosted this phase of the exercise (Pacific) was in 2015.

In UNITAS’s 60th edition, navies from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Germany, Honduras, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States participated.

Naval forces used 10 surface ships, four helicopters, four exploration aircraft, and a submarine, among other equipment, to work not only at the tactical level, but also in the planning and capabilities process to conduct a multinational force. “We also design capability assessment for different countries and how to complement them, so as to get the most out of each in terms of material, doctrine, and training,” Rear Adm. Marcic said.

Service members from 15 countries gathered for exercise UNITAS LX. International cooperation is key in order to conduct the largest multinational maritime exercise in the world. (Photo: Chilean Navy)

After the planning and coordination stages at port came the sea phase, simulating an armed conflict between two countries, and prompting the deployment of a multinational force to restore order at sea. In this fictitious war scenario, a magnitude 8.7 earthquake occurred, which damaged the most hostile country, requiring the multinational force to modify its plan of operation to help the affected population.

“The initiative also helped to treat significant problems, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster and security response in the countries, while we use different naval resources,” U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Donald Gabrielson, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, told the press. For his part, Colombian Navy Commander Jaime Montañez, commander of assault frigate ARC Independiente FM-54, said that “it will always be useful to have more helicopters and submarines from neighboring countries that can provide support.”

“In this edition, we wanted to present all the variables [catastrophes, maritime interests operations, security, and maritime communications] almost at the same time, as a challenge for planning courses of action,” Rear Adm. Marcic said. “We were able to check the advantages for the Chilean Navy to have the naval power and maritime service under one unified command. This became a main feature, because we were able to employ all existing resources in the situations presented, multiplying available capabilities.”

Achieving an adequate degree of efficiency in command and control is one of the exercise’s main goals, and is the most difficult, due to the different systems and doctrines participants use. However, the exercise helped to confirm that naval forces of the region have training standards and preparation to plan, conduct, and to take part in a multinational force.

“Teamwork and perfect synchronization leave no room for error, since these are risky activities, and we should tighten security to meet the goal of these war exercises,” Ecuadorean Navy Commander Jimmy Pozo, commander of missile corvette BAE Loja, told the press. Ecuador will host UNITAS in 2020.

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