Navy stresses importance of anti-mine training

By HENDRICK SIMOES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 14, 2014

ABOARD THE USS PONCE IN THE PERSIAN GULF — This year’s U.S.-led international mine countermeasures exercise was the largest in the three years it has been conducted.

The two-week exercise, which ended Thursday involved 6,500 servicemembers and 38 warships from more than 40 navies.

Those involved were unfazed by the reality that sea mines have been rarely used in modern warfare.

“The day we get rid of the capability is the day we’re going to need it,” Capt. Richard Hayes, commodore of Combined Task Force 52, which provides command and control of mine warfare assets in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, said in an interview with Stars and Stripes aboard the USS Ponce. The Ponce, an afloat forward staging base, was employed as the command-and-control ship for the exercise.

Now a staple of 5th Fleet’s training operations, this year’s exercise saw improvements to interoperability and the quality of multilateral interactions, officials said.

This exercise also was expanded into the Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea for the first time. The area includes critical points for shipping, including the Strait of Hormuz through which nearly 20 percent of the world’s oil supply transits.

“I think it’s an exercise of great importance,” even if there are currently no sea mines endangering shipping and Navy vessels, said Lt. Cmdr. Antonio Neto, of the Portuguese navy. This was the first year Portugal participated in the exercise, though Neto was the only representative of his country.

He acknowledged that there are currently no sea mines endangering maritime security, but nonetheless stressed the need to train for it.

“The fact that we don’t utilize it (counter-mine operations) doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice it to maintain our capabilities,” Neto said.

During the exercise, the U.S. Navy continued testing new airborne, underwater and surface systems under development — some of them unmanned — to track down mines.

“Having a multitude of different systems gives us a little more flexibility, but it can make life a little bit more complicated too, when we have to manage all of that and orchestrate all those systems in one piece of water space,” Hayes said.

The exercise also included training on a wide array of maritime operations aimed at protecting sea lanes and global commerce.

Twitter: @hendricksimoes

Ships of Commander, Task Group 521 steam in formation in the Gulf of Oman during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise Nov. 2, 2014.

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