Ibsamar naval exercise ends on dramatic note

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The trilateral naval exercise Ibsamar III ended on a dramatic note last week, with a disaster exercise simulating a military incursion into a small coastal community that required the involvement of security personnel, firefighters and medical teams from Brazil, India and South Africa.

The smoke from nearby fires hung in the air as the assembly of toy-toying protestors chanted songs and waved their hand-drawn posters in the air. Firefighters extinguished the fires whilst the protesters grew ever more impatient. A group of security force members, many armed with batons, watched from the side-lines, but then moved in to negotiate with the protestors.

With posters reading “We need water and food” and “Food please,” this scenario may seem out of place in a multi-national maritime exercise, but this particular Disaster Exercise (DISTEX) involved a small coastal community that had been affected by a military incursion that had left them hungry and angry.

The DISTEX was the highlight of Exercise Ibsamar III, which took place between 10 and 26 October. The DISTEX demonstration took place in Saldanha Bay on 25 October, with the Combined Task Force of SAS Amatola (frigate), INS Deepak (replenishment tanker), INS Delhi (guided missile destroyer) and BNS Barroso (corvette) anchored in the bay.

Two fires were extinguished by two separate Brazilian and South African fire fighting teams, whilst sailors from a joint Indian/South African security team contained the protesters and entered into negotiations. Many of the ‘protestors’ and members of the community required medical assistance, efficiently rendered by the Indian Navy Medical Services. The Medical Services from INS Deepak set up a temporary Relief Camp HQ ashore, including an operating theatre, post-op, burns and general wards.

The aim of the DISTEX was to evaluate the capacity of an International Task Force to combine protocols and procedures whilst conducting humanitarian and evacuation assistance. The South African Navy said the confidence gained through interoperability during Exercise Ibsamar III would be beneficial for anti-piracy operations and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

Captain (SAN) Chris Manig, the Commander of the South African Task Group, noted that “Ibsamar of the past has been more focused on navy maritime components, however we have progressed…We are capable of delivering humanitarian aid. It is not just about warmongering.”

The disaster exercise was followed by a combined Special Force hostage release demonstration. This involved Special Forces rescuing a hijacked boat. The rescue team made use of snipers to neutralise the hijackers, RIBs (rigid inflatable boats) and fast-roping from a helicopter to take back control of the boat. The Special Forces team consisted of 4 Special Forces Regiment from South Africa and Brazilian and Indian Special Forces.
“The capabilities of the Special Forces elements was very important to us,” said Rear Admiral (JG) Hanno Teuteberg, the Exercise Director. “The (Special Forces) were one team working to the same objectives, and it worked brilliantly.”

The third iteration of Ibsamar, led by Brazil, consisted of two harbour phases and two sea phases. The first harbour phase, from 10 to 14 October, consisted of an opening ceremony, social interactions and safety and planning sessions.

The first Sea Phase was due to commence on 15 October, but was delayed by a day as a powerful South Easter wind and rough seas prevented the naval task group from proceeding to sea from Simon’s Town Naval Base. This first phase focused on classic maritime operations, including Swept Channel Navigation, Air Operations, Cross-Deck Landings, night firing and replenishment at sea. Even then, very strong winds and high swells made for challenging conditions. After the weather conditions deteriorated during day two in the exercise areas south of Cape Point, the decision was made for the Task Group to reposition itself within sheltered False Bay to continue with the planned activities.

The Task Group berthed in Table Bay Harbour for the second Harbour Phase from 18 to 21 October. This allowed for the conduct of courtesy calls whilst the general public were allowed to visit the warships.

The second Sea Phase, commencing on 22 October, focused on benign and constabulary actions off the west coast between St Helena Bay and Saldanha Bay. Thankfully, the weather during this phase improved. “The first week was rough,” Teuteberg noted, “but we did it by moving some of the serials to the second week.”

This second phase included maritime interdiction operations (anti-piracy), combating asymmetric threats (fast inshore attack craft), air attack, disaster relief and humanitarian aid. It also marked the first time that an Indian naval ship had refuelled a Brazilian ship at sea.

Ibsamar III differs from previous editions with regard to ‘free play’. Rather than having pre-planned manoeuvres and exercises, the various Task Group commanders were allowed to actively dictate the course of events and outcomes.

As Teuteberg explained: “The Commander of the Task Force and the Task Group must make their own plans. Obviously, as Umpire, I try to sway (the outcome) to get to all our objectives. So, sometimes they will win and sometimes they will lose.”

It seems that all three participating navies were pleased with the conduct of the exercise. Captain (BN) Marco Malschitzy, Commander Task Group, Ibsamar III, told a VIP audience that, “as we almost reach the end of operations at sea, we can consider that the objectives of Ibsamar III were achieved through the joint efforts of the participants, the detailed planning and due to a great exercise performance at sea.”
“We professionally achieved a high degree of material capability and enhanced bonds of friendship between our countries,” Malschitzy added.
“We leave on a high note,” said, Captain (IN) BK Munjal, Indian Commander Task Group. “We achieved more than we desired. We look forward…to the next Ibsamar to enhance our maritime connection and our relationship.”

The next Ibsamar exercise will be held in 2014 in South Africa.