By Lt. Quint Bowen, Intelligence Officer
Destroyer Squadron 7
- 11 AUG 14: Nine fisherman arrested by Malaysian authorities for illegal fishing
- 11 AUG 14: The Philippine government prohibits Filipino seafarers from disembarking in Ebola-hit countries in West Africa
- 11 AUG 14: Attempted sea theft of an Italian-flagged vessel off the coast of Indonesia
- 14 AUG 14: Malaysia detains boat that was smuggling about 100kg of illegal turtle skin
These are just a few examples of the maritime activities that occur in the Asia-Pacific every day. Human and narcotics trafficking, smuggling, natural disasters and piracy—the security challenges in the region are current and real. Providing maritime security is a full time job and requires a joint effort from all nations who live, work and depend on the sea. To successfully address these challenges, we must continuously evaluate and improve our collective response to them.
Last week, naval and coast guard officers from six of our regional partners joined our U.S. Navy team at the Republic of Singapore Navy’s (RSN) Changi Command and Control (C2) Centre to practice these collaborative responses. Officers from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand traveled from their respective countries to participate in the Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) exercise, our Navy’s only multi-national exercise in Southeast Asia. In its 13th year, SEACAT is one of the best examples of multi-national efforts to keep sea lanes safe, secure and free.
Built on a fictitious scenario that included many of the aforementioned threats, SEACAT consisted of two parts: a command post exercise (CPX), run out of the C2 Centre’s Multi-national Exercise Center, and a field training exercise (FTX) that consisted of seven Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) boardings by units from the participating navies. The CPX portion was designed to test the command and control of each participant navy, while requiring analytic and collaborative discussions amongst the liaison officers to address simulated crises. The FTX provided the participants a real-world opportunity to practice Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), nation-to-nation hand-off of vessels of interest (VOI), and practical experience conducting boardings and searches of suspect vessels.
As the lead author of the overall SEACAT scenario, I’d like to highlight three observations from this year’s exercise:
Information-sharing: With the RSN’s C2 Centre serving as the hub of the exercise and each country’s naval headquarters serving as a spoke in the wheel, pieces of the puzzle began pouring in Monday via artificial news clips, INTERPOL notices, intelligence reports and many other sources. Each inject was only sent to one or two liaison officers, or their headquarter elements. Looked at individually, each piece seemed out of place, but when shared with their counterparts on the C2 Centre watch floor, the puzzle started coming together and information synthesized. As the exercise progressed, the communication and information-sharing improved dramatically, from the headquarters to the liaison officers, and amongst the Changi-based team. In just a few days, each participant was able to observe how information-sharing and collaboration can lead to the resolution of a shared challenge. No one nation can tackle maritime security alone and the SEACAT CPX highlighted the true power of information-sharing relationships.
Interoperability: Efforts at the C2 Centre to collate and disseminate information helped drive the operational portion of the exercise. The situational awareness provided by the C2 Centre team, helped the at-sea commanders develop courses of action for their VOI boardings. When the boarding team approached one of the VOIs, they were aware of the threat, persons of interest, and illicit cargoes, all derived from the successful synthesis of information and employment of their C2. The physical boardings provided a forum for the participating navies to conduct sailor-to-sailor discussions on the topics of best practices, vessel approaches, employment of deadly force, etc. What was learned is that the approach to naval boardings is similar across all of our navies, but there were nuanced lessons on individual country’s justifications for boarding, as well as standard operating procedures that might play a role in adapting our future exercises and training.
Relationship building: What we achieved through this exercise was successfully taking a group of mid-grade officers from seven different nations, and challenging them to accomplish a shared mission through collaboration, information sharing and teamwork. The professional relationships that are formed through exercises like SEACAT help lay the foundation for developing effective responses to future security challenges and disasters. As DESRON 7 staff observe every year, the officers we work with on exercises like these are the same ones we will be working with on real world events when they occur. It’s reassuring to see this multi-national team successfully respond to the maritime security challenges in this exercise, knowing that the day they all return to their respective countries they will be underway responding to real ones together.
Southeast Asia is one of the world’s preeminent maritime regions, and with its economic and geographic significance comes a corresponding rise in maritime security threats and challenges. Through continued multi-national training and collaboration, our nations will be able to successfully address any challenge, whatever, wherever and whenever they occur.
Lt. Bowen also serves as the U.S. Navy’s liaison officer to the Information Fusion Centre (IFC), which is a regional maritime security information-sharing centre hosted by the Republic of Singapore Navy.