Maritime forces from Europe, North Africa, and the United States began the tenth iteration of the multinational maritime Exercise Phoenix Express on 17 May.
Phoenix Express, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, is designed to improve regional cooperation, increase maritime domain awareness information-sharing practices, and operational capabilities to enhance efforts to achieve safety and security in the Mediterranean Sea.
“The benefit of Phoenix Express is the coordination and collaboration that happens between multi-national partners in the maritime environment, every Chief of Naval Operations that I have ever worked for, part of their vison has always been not just the U.S. Forces but all of the other partners that we operate with around the world,” said Rear Adm. Kevin Kovacich, Director of Strategy, Plans and Programs, United States Africa Command. “It takes all of us working together and contributing to each other’s knowledge and experience.”
“I provide customized and dedicated training to the participating units and have been committed to this for the past nine years since the center was established. Phoenix Express sets the provisions to allow partners to get integrated and provide opportunities for the crew members to work and integrate together,” said Commodore Georgios Tsogkas, Commandant of NATO Maritime, Interdiction Operational Training Center (NMIOTC), Hellenic Navy.
This year’s exercise control group will be hosted at the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operations Training Center (NMIOTC) located in Souda Bay, Greece but training will take place throughout the Mediterranean to include North African nations’ territorial waters.
The at-sea portion of the exercise will test North African, European, and U.S. forces’ abilities to combat illegal migration, illicit trafficking, and movement of materials for weapons of mass destruction. Additionally, participating forces will work together to practice procedures of search and rescue in cases where vessels are in distress. Participating Maritime Operations Centers (MOCs) will exercise information sharing practices.
Participants of Phoenix Express have opportunities to enhance expertise in a number of areas: boarding techniques, search-and-rescue operations, medical casualty response, MOC to MOC communication, and maritime domain awareness tools.
Scenarios focused on the globally-recognized Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) will allow endorsing nations of Tunisia and Morocco to develop capabilities to detect and disrupt the delivery of materials used to build and develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
A Combined Maritime Operation Center (CMOC), led and comprised of North African navy officers, will form at the NMIOTC to manage the at-sea operations.
While the exercise is facilitated by the U.S. Navy, senior leaders from North African navies have prominent roles in the exercise. A Moroccan officer will oversee the exercise control group; a Tunisian officer will oversee the CMOC; and an Algerian officer will oversee a five-ship surface action group participating in the at-sea phase.
U.S. units participating include the dive and rescue salvage ship USNS Grasp (T-ARS 51), and the USS Gravely (DDG 107). Additionally, medical and maritime interdiction operations (MIO) specialists will assist participating partner nation units during the exercise.
A senior leader seminar will be held one day prior to the start of the exercise, organized and facilitated by the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. The seminar will focus on the current maritime challenges in the Mediterranean and bring forward dialogue on how regional cooperation can address those challenges.
Exercise Phoenix Express is one of three U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet facilitated regional exercises. The exercise is part of a comprehensive strategy to provide collaborative opportunities amongst African forces and international partners that addresses maritime security concerns. Participating nations in Phoenix Express 2016 include Algeria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States. NATO Shipping Center is also scheduled to participate.