SA Navy Maritime Reaction team hands-on during Exercise Cutlass Express


The responsibility for flying the flag of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) during Exercise Cutlass Express, currently underway off the east coast of Africa, rests on the shoulders of a small group of SA Navy ratings.

The nine-strong group are all members of the Navy’s Maritime Reaction Squadron, a marine-type force brought into being by now-retired maritime strategy director Bernhard Teuteberg some years ago. It was established to deal with increasing demands for anti-piracy operations, including boarding and searching of suspect vessels, as well as being able to provide a land force to protect Navy assets while in foreign ports.

They are commanded by combat officer, Commander Chris Khumalo, and are taking an active part in various boarding exercises using US and naval assets from some of the 13 nations involved. It is the first time the SA Navy has had a boarding team take part in a Cutlass Express exercise.

Scenarios are taking place in the vicinity of Djibouti in Djibouti and Port Louis in Mauritius with at-sea taskings concentrated into three days of activity to test boarding team and duty watch officers in the Maritime Operations Centres (MOCs).

Scenarios during Cutlass Express allow nations who have endorsed the globally recognised Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) to develop capabilities to detect and disrupt the delivery of materials used in building and developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Exercising information sharing practices and enforcing the maritime rule of law also feature high on the priority list for Cutlass Express.

The exercise, also attended by US representatives from the East Africa Standby Force, EU Naval Force, International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and Combined Maritime Forces, is due to finish this weekend.

It is now in its fourth year and is one of four Africa-focussed regional “Express” series exercises facilitated by US Naval Forces Europe-Africa and the US Sixth Fleet.

SA Navy fleet headquarters in Simon’s Town hosted the final planning meeting for cutlass Express in November. This saw exercise scenarios, participant force offerings, the schedule of events and participant manning finalised over a four day period.