Exercise ATLASUR all at sea


Exercise ATLASUR XI 2018, the multinational biennial maritime exercise between South Africa, Brazil and Uruguay, has entered its first sea phase.

Having commenced the alongside first phase in Simon’s Town on August 31, sea phase one started in False Bay on 6 September, with integration at sea scheduled to be completed by 9 September.

The South African Navy (SAN), as the lead service of the host country, is providing the majority of participating assets. This includes the frigate SAS AMATOLA, hydrographic survey vessel SAS PROTEA, submarine SAS MANTHATISI and the Maritime Reaction Squadron (boats, reaction force, divers and boarding).

Brazil is represented by the frigate BNS BARROSO (with an AS350 Ecureuil helicopter aboard) and 1 Platoon Special Forces, while Uruguay is represented by the replenishment vessel ROU GENERAL ARTIGAS and a Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) team.

The first evolutions consisted of Officer of the Watch manoeuvres. This, Commander Abdul Sayed, Executive Officer of SAS Amatola said, involved “basic manoeuvring of ships in order for them to become accustomed with one another in terms of manning, as well as conducting training for junior Officer of the Watch and Navigation Officers”.

The theme for Exercise ATLASUR XI is “Combined we are combating illegal trade (human, drugs and arms).” This, Sayed said, was one of the most formidable threats, not only across Africa, but around the world.
“The purpose of this exercise is for us to exercise with the Uruguayans and the Brazilians,” Sayed explained, “As international navies we have this collaborative effort in terms of a common goal. In combating illegal trade, the seaward element is in support of the landward objective.”

As a result, there is a small landward contingent involved in exercise ATLASUR XI. A combined South Africa, Brazilian and Uruguayan amphibious marine force made landfall and proceeded along the coastline in support of the exercise.

After a night steam by the task force, defenceWeb boarded SAS AMATOLA via boat transfer in the dark, chilly pre-dawn hours of last Friday.

The serialised programme for the day commenced with AMATOLA and BARROSO conducting naval gunfire support, which Sayed explained as “providing area bombardment towards the objective meant to be achieved ashore.”

AMATOLA did not actually fire her main OTO Melara 76mm gun, the BARROSO was enveloped in smoke as she fired her 113mm (4.5″) Vickers Mk 8 dual-purpose gun.

As the same time, PROTEA detached from the task force to conduct a MEDEVAC, flying a ‘casualty’ ashore via a South African Air Force Oryx helicopter.

AMATOLA and BARROSO also conducted an ADEX (air defence exercise) to practise the ship’s ability to counter enemy aircraft. For this purpose, the SAAF provided a PC-7 MkII of Central Flying School, AFB Langebaanweg, to simulate an attacking aircraft.

While BARROSO remained on her gunnery exercise, AMATOLA broke away from the task force and continued with the ADEX.

PROTEA then rejoined the task force while the spotters were recovered from their designated area, with the Ecureuil helicopter embarked aboard the BARROSO taking the opportunity to fly.

All the while, Heroine-class submarine MANTHATISI was operating on and under the surrounding False Bay waters, accompanying the task force which then ventured south of Cape Point.

In order to celebrate the Independence Day of Brazil, AMATOLA led the PROTEA, GENERAL ARTIGAS and MANTHATISI in a sail past of the Brazilian frigate BARROSO, with the crew of the AMATOLA lining the ship’s side, executing a “Three Cheers.”

This was a special moment for two Brazilian naval officers aboard AMATOLA, who were observing activities during the exercises. Similarly, two South African naval officers were aboard BARROSO.

Over the next week, additional sea phases will see exercises conducted in the False Bay area and off the Cape West Coast, which Sayed labels “exciting.”

Besides additional exercises with the submarine, Sayed described how the exercise control team will inject scenarios to which the task force will react.
“The purpose is to test our ability in terms of a real-life scenario in which we will be engaged in combat and how we deal with these scenarios,” he said, “They will test our perseverance to combat these simulated threats.”

Navies are no longer solely concerned with traditional conventional warfare and acknowledge countries face a common enemy, such as piracy and human trafficking.

Sayed told defenceWeb: “That is the common fit all navies are engineered and geared towards combating, so multinational navies exercise with one another. There are a few hurdles that we need to overcome including the language barrier and different operating procedures.”
“The purpose is to afford us the opportunity to train with one another and for us to improve on those skills,” he continued, “So when we are called on by global agencies, we are able to execute functions properly and effectively.”

From the South African Navy perspective, Sayed says this ATLASUR series of exercises allows them to “brush up on our standard operating procedures in terms of jointness and multinational co-operation.”

Brazilian observers aboard AMATOLA agreed, noting although international navies speak the same naval language, there are differences in the Standard Operating Procedures between the two navies.

Sea phase three, from Monday 17 September, will see the Uruguayans return home, with the South Africans and Brazilians continuing with conventional maritime warfare at sea evolutions.

On conclusion of Exercise Atlasur XI on 21 September, the Brazilians will undertake a diplomatic visit to Maputo before returning to Simon’s Town on 1 October for the start of Exercise IBSAMAR, conducted between South Africa, Brazil and India.

Given the severe budgetary constraints under which the SA Navy has to operate, many question the future viability and operational efficiency of the SA Navy. So the last word should go to Sayed: “Yes, the South African Navy is definitely up for the job and up for the task at hand.”