Exercise Atlasur IX brings SA Special Forces to the fore

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The ninth iteration of Exercise Atlasur, the biennial multinational maritime exercise currently underway between the navies of South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, is concentrating on Special Forces tactics.

Whilst previous exercises concentrated on seagoing activities, this year the activities of the Special Forces of all four nations will be put to the test.

This was evident on September 6 when residents of and visitors to the small fishing village of Hout Bay on the Cape Peninsula were enthralled to see a VIP rescue operation unfold before them. The small harbour was specifically chosen to conduct this part of the exercise.

The three-day VIP rescue mission consisted of two forces: Blue Team comprising South Africa and Brazil and Red Team comprising Argentina and Uruguay.

The basic scenario is that a Royal Family is on a visit to the Republic of Hout Bay. As is common in many families worldwide, the Prince has a drug problem and walks into the village to purchase Tik (crystal methamphetamine), followed closely by his Secret Service minder. The Prince is kidnapped by members of the Red Force who have infiltrated the Republic. He is taken to a Red Force ship anchored offshore. The Secret Service agent, however, is beaten up and thrown into the sea.

It is now up to the Blue Force to rescue the Prince. A call goes out to Ysterplaat Air Force base which sends a Super Lynx maritime helicopter to rescue the Secret Service agent. Blue Special Forces arrive by Oryx medium-transport helicopter and are roped down to the Red Force vessel and proceed to take command of the ship. The Oryx then returns to extricate the Prince and take him to safety. A few hours later, a Hawk on a reconnaissance mission spots a mobile SAM and radar mock-up on the road above Hout Bay. This information is relayed to the Blue team and a further battle problem is enacted offshore.

For safety reasons, paint-ball guns were used whilst operating ashore in Hout Bay.

Rear Admiral (JG) Hanno Teuteberg, the Exercise Director for this exercise said: “The professional skills and experiences which will be exchanged during this exercise’s interaction would help in enhancing cooperation and understanding the nuances of combating maritime threats of terrorism and piracy.”

Explaining further, Teuteberg noted that the Blue and Red forces did not know what the other was planning. Referees were also on hand to monitor the activity.
“This is not a shop window, “Teuteberg explained, “but a realistic exercise dependant on real-time communications.”

The VIP rescue mission is just one aspect of Exercise Atlasur IX, which commenced on September 25, with the Task Group heading out to sea for the first sea phase on September 28. Other activities taking place at sea include Officer of the Watch manoeuvres, Vertical Replenishment and cross-deck landing by helicopter serials, night firings and Air Defence Exercises involved simulated attack profiles by Hawk jets.

The participating vessels include the South African frigate SAS Amatola with Captain (Navy) Andre de Wet, Commander Task Group, on board and the off-shore patrol vessel SAS Umzimkulu. The balance of the Task Group is made up of ARA Espora (Argentina), BNS Barroso (Brazil) and ROU Uruguay (Uruguay). The South African submarine SAS Queen Modjadji I is also participating in the joint exercise by undertaking Anti-Submarine Warfare exercises and Special Forces taskings.

These exercises are an important aspect of navy training. Teuteberg noted that this was an opportunity for the SA Navy to ‘play’ with three first class forces from South America.
“The professional skills and experiences which will be exchanged during this exercise’s interaction would help in enhancing cooperation and understanding the nuances of combating maritime threats of terrorism and piracy,” Teuteberg said.

Captain (Navy) Paulo Cesar Demby Corrêa, the Brazilian Defence and Naval Attaché, agreed. “Brazil sees Atlasur as one of the most important international joint exercises between the four navies,” Corrêa remarked. “Each exercise improves a little bit more of our inter-operability and our professional skills from all four navies involved.”

Corrêa observed that the large use of Special Forces was new for the Atlasur series of exercises. “Last week we conducted classic naval exercises between the four navies. Now we can put these Special Forces teams in place and this battle problem will be one of the most highlighted outcomes that we can learn from this Atlasur,” said Corrêa.
“This inter-operability of the fast rope exercises, the snipers, the procedures, the helicopter approach, all these tactical procedures are very important for this Special Forces team because it is not easy to carry out or conduct exercise like this at sea.”

Whilst the results of the exercise will only be evaluated at the end of the exercise on October 9, Corrêa was very clear on his interim evaluation: “One thing is very important to be taken into consideration. We are learning a lot. This is the most important part.”

For the South Africans and Brazilians, the conclusion of Atalsur IX will not allow any time off. As the Argentinians and Uruguayans depart, the Indian Navy will arrive for Exercise Ibsamar, which commences on October 10. This biennial maritime exercise will also involve members of the Special Forces from all three navies.