The eighth iteration of Phoenix Express 2014 concluded June 4, after three weeks of maritime security training scenarios ashore and at sea.
Phoenix Express, one of four U.S. Africa Command-sponsored regional maritime exercises, brought together maritime forces from North Africa, Europe, and the U.S. to refine tactics and techniques in a number of maritime mission areas.
Participants felt the exercise achieved its goals of improving cooperation and maritime interdiction expertise in order to enhance safety and security in the Mediterranean Sea.
“This exercise was an overwhelming success and really went off without a hitch,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Michael McClintock, officer in tactical command of Phoenix Express 2014, who spoke at the post-sail conference in Sigonella marking the end of the exercise. “We train like we fight, and fight like we train and that is what we did for the past four weeks.”
The first two weeks of the exercise were held in-port, and focused on medical and maritime interdiction operations (MIO) training at the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operation Training Center (NMIOTC) in Souda Bay, Greece.
The participating nations then shifted their focus to the at-sea portion of the exercise and practiced a wide range of skill sets during underway operations in the central Mediterranean Sea from May 24 – June 2.
Personnel from participating countries worked together as part of a Maritime Operations Center (MOC), established at Naval Air Station Sigonella, which helped exercise participants manage a common operational picture while providing tactical oversight of the participating ships. The information sharing procedures in the MOC further enhanced interoperability of all involved.
“This exercise was important so we could share our skill sets and capabilities with one another,” said Hellenic navy Lt. Cmdr. Chris Tasiopoulos. “It’s a two-way street because we’re able to share our knowledge and skills while being able to take away knowledge and skills from the participating countries.”
Five warships from Algeria, Greece, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia, which carried a total of eight boarding teams, and two commercial vessels serving as target vessels participated in the at-sea phase. Over the course of eight days underway, all eight teams focused on executing scenarios to counter maritime threats such as illegal fishing and illicit trafficking. Participating boarding teams completed a total of 39 boardings as part of the scenarios.
A significant part of this year’s exercise was the air operations component. Commander, Task Force 67 coordinated six P-3C Orion maritime patrol flights that helped build maritime domain awareness in support of the surface action commander. Several nations were able to embark in the P-3C Orion aircraft to observe operations during the maritime patrol flights.
Libya, who participated in Phoenix Express for the first time both with a MIO team and a representative in the MOC, expressed the appreciation for the opportunity to practice techniques in real-world scenarios.
“We learned a great deal from the at-sea training and observed how to coordinate information sharing better with our fellow North African countries,” said Libyan Capt. Mansour Saeed. “These are things we will bring back to our country which is very important for our navy now and in the future.”
Participants in Phoenix Express 2014 included Algeria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States.