This year’s iteration of U.S. Southern Command’s annual Panama Canal exercise, slated for August, will for the first time feature Colombia leading the land component, and will include an added emphasis on cyber operations.
The PANAMAX exercise focuses on the security of the canal and typically involves between 15 to 23 partner nations, said Lt. Col. Edward Rodgers, exercises branch chief for SOUTHCOM’s theater engagement directorate, who will oversee PANAMAX 2011’s planning coordination.
The last iteration, which took place Aug. 16 – 27, 2010, included 2,000 civilian and military participants from 18 nations in simulated training scenarios near Panama and the United States. In 2011, Rodgers said, the key difference will be that a partner nation — Colombia — volunteered to lead the exercise’s land component, the first time PANAMAX has had a partner nation lead, he said.
“The focus continues to be the Panama Canal, but the complexity of the exercises has grown,” Rodgers said. Typically, a multinational task force led by a service component leads the exercises with corresponding function components operating underneath that task force, such as land, air and special operations, Rodgers explained.
“For the first time, we had a partner nation come up and volunteer and say, ‘Hey, we would like to be the lead for the land component,’ and that’s going to be Colombia,” Rodgers said. “So it’s pretty exciting that we have a nation that feels they are going to get some value, not only in training but leading a part of the exercise itself.”
In addition to Colombia and PANAMAX co-sponsors, the United States and Panama, participating nations in this year’s exercise include Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru, according to a SOUTHCOM spokesman.
“In addition to that, we’ve added an emphasis on cyber operations,” Rodgers said. “You continue to look throughout the news, and day to day, you can’t go too far without seeing [cyber]. So we’ve added that.”
This year’s exercise will also include a “live event,” where 24 or 25 ships will work north and south of the Panama Canal during the exercise. This part was simulated in 2010, Rodgers said.
“Last year, a lot of blue water ops, the naval vessels, were simulated,” he explained, noting that both the U.S. and partner nations wanted to reduce the amount of expenditures they had to outlay.”
Because Colombia became a recent signator of the U.S. State Department’s Proliferation Security Initiative — which aims to stop trafficking of weapons of mass destruction — PANAMAX 2011 will also include two proliferation security initiative events, Rodgers said.
“Colombia is going to do a roundtable with us and Panama to discuss, if we did this for real, how would we react at the government level,” he added.