By Vice Adm. John Miller
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet
Navies from more than 40 nations spanning six continents are now training together throughout the Middle East for this year’s International Mine Countermeasures Exercise or IMCMEX, the largest exercise of its kind anywhere in the world. These nations are united by a common thread – they recognize the threat to global commerce posed by mines.
Through the course of this exercise participants will train to execute a wide spectrum of defensive operations designed to protect international commerce and trade consisting of mine countermeasures, maritime security operations and maritime infrastructure protection.
We started this event last week with a three day symposium in Bahrain on Maritime Infrastructure Protection bringing together governments, militaries and industry to discuss how we can best provide the necessary foundation of security that supports unrestricted access to the vital maritime infrastructure that is critical to regional and global economies.
This week we began our at-sea phase of this exercise where participating nations are operating 38 ships, 19 unmanned underwater vehicles and have nearly 100 explosive ordnance disposal divers working together from the Northern Arabian Gulf to the Arabian Sea to the Northern Red Sea. This year’s IMCMEX is significantly more complex than previous editions of this exercise, with more ships, more nations and more Sailors operating as an international force training to protect the world’s sea-lanes.
Accompanying this world-class capacity are the most advanced capabilities and comprehensive procedures available, including everything from Marine Mammal Systems, with their ability to operate in highly-cluttered environments and deep depths in support of discovery, marking, and recovery of persons or objects of interest, to the new Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS). ALMDS is a sensor system designed to detect, classify and localize floating and near-surface moored mines. Operated from the MH-60S helicopter, ALMDS provides rapid wide-area reconnaissance and assessment of mine threats in littoral zones, confined straits, and choke points.
Also this year we have a significant increase in the number of commercial and shipping industry partnerships who have been involved in the planning process from the start. This partnership with commercial shipping is another unique strength of the exercise. We continue to effectively operate as an international team to further highlight our ability to safely escort industry ships throughout the waters around the Arabian Peninsula and the world, protecting the free flow of commerce.
This region provides a strong training opportunity for nations worldwide as three of the six major maritime chokepoints in the world are here: the Suez Canal, the Strait of Bab Al Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz. Nearly 20 percent of the world’s oil transits through the Strait of Hormuz every day. Imagine the impact on the global economy if suddenly that oil stops flowing because of restricted sea-lanes. This region is clearly important to the whole world.
IMCMEX is focused on maritime security from the port of origin to the port of arrival and will include scenarios that range from mine countermeasures, infrastructure protection and maritime security operations in support of civilian shipping.
We began highlighting security at the point of origin during the MIPS symposium and while at sea an international force of mine countermeasure ships will be working together to locate inert mine shapes to sharpen their skills.
A significant portion of IMCMEX agenda also focuses on maritime security operations, to include commercial shipping escorts. An international symposium to sharpen the skills of Sailors conducting visit, board, search and seizure operations is new to this year’s exercise. Training to combat waterborne improvised explosive devices, explosive laden small boats and piracy are also an integral part of keeping our sea-lanes free.
In addition to all the multi-national forces participating at sea and in the ports throughout the region, there is a robust staff made up of service members from 26 countries. The International Maritime Exercise Force (IMEF) oversees the complex execution of the exercise. The makeup of this international staff amplifies that this exercise is a collaborative effort of the more than 40 nations that have come together.
With the cooperation on display here for IMCMEX, just imagine how effective the global response will be if there ever is an actual threat of mine warfare anywhere in the world. The tremendous number of nations participating in this exercise sends a clear signal that threats to global commerce will not be tolerated and that these nations are united in their commitment to ensure the free use of the global commons for the benefit of the whole world’s economy.