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Friday, August 19, 2011

Exercise for defending Panama Canal – PANAMAX 2011

One of the marvellous projects ever to have been undertaken – the Panama Canal – the 77 kilo meter (48 mile) stretch joining the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean redefined the maritime trade and transportation across continents.    On May 4, 1904 the United States, under President Theodore Roosevelt, began construction of the canal after buying the rights from the previous French expedition. The Panama Canal opened for business, Aug. 15, 1914, after 10 years of construction. Since opening, lakhs  of various types of vessels have transited the 47.9 mile canal, saving shipping and military ships from having to transit around South America. The traffic is regulated by the Panama Canal Authority, the agency of the Government of Panama which took over from the Panama Canal Commission in 1999. 

The Republic of Panama has an area of 75,517 sq. km. (29,157 sq. mi.);  it is located on the southeastern end of the isthmus forming the land bridge between North and South America. The official language is Spanish as this place was part of the Spanish empire for 300 years.   In November 1903, with U.S. encouragement, Panama proclaimed its independence and concluded the Hay/Bunau-Varilla Treaty with the United States.  The treaty signed on November 18, 1903, by the United States and Panama,  established the Panama Canal Zone and the subsequent construction of the Panama Canal. It was named after its two primary negotiators, Phillipe Bunau-Varilla, the French diplomatic representative of Panama, and United States Secretary of State John Hay.  The treaty granted rights to the United States "as if it were sovereign" in a zone roughly 10 miles wide and 50 miles long. In that zone, the U.S. would build a canal, then administer, fortify, and defend it "in perpetuity.    In May 2009, Panama held general elections and selected Ricardo Martinelli as president.

The area agog with ship traffic is more active now with one of the  world’s largest multinational military exercises getting under way to test plans to defend the Panama Canal.  It’s reported that some  3,500 military and civilian personnel from 17 countries are participating in the 12-day exercise dubbed PANAMAX 2011.  The military exercise is co-sponsored by Southcom and the Panamanian government.  It is  a joint, combined operation focused on defending one of the world’s most strategic and economically crucial waterways for global trade, officials said.  Quoting the Southcom spokesperson it is said that this  year’s exercise focuses on building the interoperability and capacity that would be necessary to defend the canal in the event of a threat.  “We hope the Panama Canal will never have to be defended from a serious threat,” Ruiz said, “but capacity is a very important part of being able to respond to emerging threats.” While the participating countries have an interest in the canal, two-thirds of the canal’s shipping traffic is from the United States, Ruiz noted.  The exercise will develop and test the command and control of forces at sea, involving participants in maritime, air, land, space and cyber operations.  Scenarios include open water diving operations, counterdrug interdictions and simulated river operations.

PANAMAX 2011 is one of the largest multinational training exercises in the world and  take place off the coasts of Panama, Texas, Florida and Mississippi through Aug. 26.  Historically, the exercise  series began in 2003 with the United States, Panama and Chile participating.   Interest in the exercise and in protecting the canal has grown over the years,  and participation has expanded to as many as 20 partner countries. 

The Panama Canal is critical to the free flow of trade in the region and the entire world.  The region's economy and political stability largely depend on the safe transport of several hundred million tons of cargo through the Canal each year, and  this is  designed to ensure plans are in place to respond to requests from the Government of Panama and also Colombia for this year’s iteration.

Representatives from Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and the United States are participating  in exercise PANAMAX 2011 from August 15-26, 2011.  From the United States are staff elements from SOUTHCOM, U.S. Army South, U.S. Marine Forces South, Special Operations Command South, USS Thach (FFG 43), USCGC Bear (WMEC-901), Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Two (MDSU 2) Explosive Ordinance Disposal Operational Support Unit (EODOSU) 10 Detachment OCD, Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron Four (MSRON 4), Riverine Group One (RIVGRU 1), U.S. 2nd Fleet, and U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command / U.S. 4th Fleet.  Approximately 22 vessels and several aircraft  are to  take part in the exercise. Participants are focusing on a variety of responses to any request from the Government of Panama to protect and guarantee safe passage of traffic through the Panama Canal, ensure its neutrality, and respect national sovereignty.

Of these  USS Thach (FFG 43) is a  guided-missile frigate which during the exercise, will  operate as part of the Pacific Task Force, a multinational force that will provide maritime domain awareness in the Pacific approaches to the Panama Canal.   The U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet (COMUSNAVSO/C4F) supports U.S. Southern Command joint and combined full-spectrum military operations by providing principally sea-based, forward presence to ensure freedom of maneuver in the maritime domain, to foster and sustain cooperative relationships with international partners and to fully exploit the sea as maneuver space in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.

Here is a photo of US Marine corps – MV 22 Osprey,  multi-mission, military, tiltrotor aircraft with both a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability. It is designed to combine the functionality of a conventional helicopter with the long-range, high-speed cruise performance of a turboprop aircraft.

Amazing.  It is not only a naval exercise but also a display of military might of the US

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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