This year’s International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) concluded in Bahrain Nov. 13, after nearly three weeks of seminars and training maneuvers.

The exercise provided a wide array of maritime operations designed to promote international interoperability, protect global commerce and ensure secure sea lanes.

More than 6,500 military service members from more than 40 nations, along with 700 civilian mariners, operated 38 naval ships, 32 civilian merchant vessels and three exercise task forces throughout the Arabian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea. 

“This year’s exercise has been a great success,” said Vice Adm. John W. Miller, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT)/5th Fleet (C5F)/Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). “Not only did we have more nations participate and greater involvement from the commercial shipping industry, but we also greatly improved on the complexity of our scenarios, command and control of our vessels, interoperability, the quality of our presentations and discussions, and our multilateral interactions in general.” 

Mine countermeasures (MCM) operations included ships, crews and observers underway to conduct training in at-sea maneuvers, mine hunting operations, aerial MCM operations, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) operations and unmanned underwater vehicles. The exercise continued to confirm the effectiveness of the afloat staging base concept, employing the British amphibious assault vessels HMS Bulwark (L15) and RFA Cardigan Bay (L3009) and the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15), as a platform for mine countermeasures.

“While the mine countermeasure part of this exercise was key, [the exercise] delivered far more,” said Commodore Keith Blount, Royal Navy, deputy commander Combined Maritime Forces and Commander of this year’s International Maritime Exercise Force. “Broader maritime security operations (MSO) and maritime infrastructure protection (MIP) were equally as important components and enhanced our proficiency in proving our ability to deliver port-of-departure to port-of-arrival security. It has been a large success.” 

MSO focused on an outward facing force protection concept that provides a safe environment for ships to conduct MCM and MIP. These operations allow naval vessels to provide convoy escorts to commercial merchant shipping to ensure safe navigation through chokepoints and de-mined sea lanes for the free flow of international goods. During the exercise, naval forces and civilian mariners planned and executed more than 500 nautical miles of multinational convoys through the Strait of Hormuz, one of which included a very large crude oil carrier. These types of ships are the world’s largest moving objects. MSO also included search and rescue, mass casualty treatment, and visit, boarding, search and seizure drills.

A three-day MIP symposium, prior to the beginning of the at-sea phase of the exercise, provided an exchange of ideas as industry representatives discussed means to ensure the safety of maritime commerce through vital sea lanes and at strategic sea ports with senior leaders from participating countries. MIP included close engagement with industry partners, conducting a table-top oil-spill exercise, and standing up a cell to coordinate military and civilian shipping. 

“The MIP symposium provided us with a great opportunity to bring together governments, militaries and industry to discuss how we can best provide the necessary foundation of security that supports unrestricted access to the vital maritime infrastructure that is critical to regional and global economies,” said Miller.

In addition to the symposium, expanded mass casualty drills that simulated maritime accidents extended the infrastructure protection concept to include medical triage and evacuation of injured personnel.

This year’s IMCMEX took place in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, which encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water and includes the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean. Twenty countries comprise this expanse, which includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.