Maritime forces from Gulf of Guinea nations, Europe, North and South America and several regional and international organizations began the multinational maritime exercise Obangame Express on 21 March.
Exercise Obangame Express 2018 (OE18), which is sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), is designed to improve regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness (MDA), information-sharing practices, and tactical interdiction expertise to enhance the collective capabilities of Gulf of Guinea and West African nations to counter sea-based illicit activity, the US Navy said.
OE18, now in its eighth year, is one of three U.S. Naval Forces Europe- Africa-facilitated regional exercises. The exercise is part of a comprehensive strategy by CNE-CNA/C6F (Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet) and AFRICOM to provide collaborative opportunities amongst African forces and international partners that addresses maritime security concerns.
“It must be recognized that, in many respects, African states have taken the lead in pushing the importance of maritime security toward the top of the international agenda, forcing us to consider the ramifications of action, or inaction, in the maritime domain. African leadership in this area reflects a profound change both in how the world understands and defines security,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark Camerer, director of logistics, U.S. Africa Command. “The maritime domain serves as the crossroad of national, regional and global interests. Be it security, economic or environmental interests, the maritime domain connects us all,” added Camerer.
The exercise will last eight days, with a two-phase underway portion that will encompass a regional framework and then transition to an emphasis on national patrols. Throughout, the maritime operations center (MOC) will exercise information sharing practices.
OE18 will be conducted in multiple areas at sea and ashore. At-sea operations will be conducted throughout the Gulf of Guinea. The largest footprint ashore for OE18 will be in Libreville, Gabon. Numerous MOCs will be participating from ashore across the Gulf of Guinea and West Africa along with several international organization MOCs.
“The exercise provides an excellent arena to show the necessity of interagency cooperation for governments to accomplish a larger mission,” said Randall Meridith, deputy chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libreville, Gabon.
OE18’s Accra, Ghana, site kicked off with a tabletop exercise. A team comprised of U.S. Sailors and Marines worked together with Ghanaian officials on scenarios at the maritime operations center in Accra. This part of the exercise is designed to help build relationships between the many different agencies used to help secure the Gulf of Guinea.
“Our Navy and Marine Corps team is here executing a tabletop exercise (TTX) with various Ghanaian security services during exercise Obangame Express 2018. The TTX is designed to create an informal and friendly atmosphere. This environment fosters a rewarding experience with candid dialogue and open two-way communication. This TTX is part of a Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa (MARFOREUR/AF) and Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) initiative, Maritime Operations Center-Ground Force Integration (MOC-GFI). The MOC-GFI concept focuses on African partner defense forces and interagency communication and coordination procedures in response to threats that span across the land, sea, and air domains,” said Marine Master Sergeant Brian Ross, U.S. Marine Corps foreign area staff non-commissioned officer, Africa, for MARFOREUR/AF.
Through enhanced cooperation, detection capabilities, and capability to respond — all objectives of OE18 — Gulf of Guinea nations seek to ensure narcotics traffickers are deterred, fisheries trade is protected, and waters remain free of piracy, allowing for global trade to continue unhampered and thus enhancing overall economic stability.
Specific skill sets exercised for OE18 include boarding techniques, search and rescue operations, medical casualty response, radio communication, and information management techniques.
The U.S. will provide multiple training teams and controllers operating in African partner nations and aboard partner vessels.
The Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20), the command ship for U.S. 6th Fleet, will participate in the exercise and could be used for a wide variety of scenarios, to include at-sea ship boarding and queries, air operations, communication drills, and regional information sharing.
“Exercise Obangame Express 2018 is off to a good start,” said Royal Canadian Navy Cmdr. Peter Koch.
“Communications tools have been checked, command and working relationships established, tactics practiced, and ships and other assets fueled and stored. Everyone is as ready as possible for operations that will commence tomorrow,” added Koch.
The 31 nations scheduled to participate in Obangame Express 2018 include Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Togo, Turkey and the United States, as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).