Military News

Friday, July 01, 2016

communications, interoperability exercises prepare military, first responders for emergency

Written by Capt. Joe Trovato, Wisconsin National Guard

Two recent domestic operations exercises have left the Wisconsin National Guard better prepared to fulfill its role as Wisconsin’s first military responder.

The annual Statewide Interoperable Mobile Communications exercise known as SIMCOM, was held May 18-19 in Neillsville in Clark County. More than 150 participants from 20 various agencies participated in the annual communications exercise at the Clark County Fairgrounds.

Over the course of the exercise, participants conducted radio checks and established reliable data, phone and Internet capabilities to ensure interoperability.

The National Guard has a unique dual-mission as the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force, but also as the first military responder in an emergency here at home, so Guard units must ensure that their military networks and communications systems are interoperable with civilian communications systems to fulfill that mission.

"Sometimes people ask, 'Why do this?'" said John Ross, Clark County Emergency Management Director. "We do this so that we can work through the planning, work through the preparation, have the conversation, find out where some of our challenges and variables are going to be in a controlled environment where we can stop and fix the problem rather than experiencing it when the world is falling apart around us, and we're trying to do our other tasks in that response.”

"Wisconsin is one of the only states in the U.S. that actually does a cross-agency exercise like this," said Capt. Allen Nielsen, a Wisconsin Air National Guardsman who works in Wisconsin's Joint Operations Center and helped plan the 2016 SIMCOM exercise. "Other states try to emulate this [exercise], but they don't have anything near the size or scope that we do."

Lessons learned at SIMCOM were on display just weeks later as thousands of first responders and National Guard personnel responded to devastation caused by severe weather, hazardous materials releases, domestic terrorism and other scenarios during a major exercise at Volk Field, Fort McCoy, Wisconsin’s Emergency Operations Center, and other sites around the state June 5-9 as part of the Miles Paratus exercise.

Interoperability and establishing reliable communications were once again a focus of the exercise.

If such a scenario had occurred in real-life, seamless communications interoperability between each agency — from National Guard aircraft and response forces, to local sheriff and police departments, EMS, fire departments, Wisconsin Emergency Management, the FBI and others — would have been critical to the overall response.

The hope is that exercises like SIMCOM and Miles Paratus create opportunities for the many different agencies that might be involved in a real-world response to identify their problems and shortcomings in a controlled, simulated environment, rather than when disaster strikes for real.

Todd Nehls, the deputy director of emergency police services with Wisconsin Emergency Management, coordinated WEM’s mobile communications center. Nehls explained that in a hypothetical response to a terrorist incident, the local sheriff's department, police, fire, EMS, along with various state and federal law enforcement agencies, and the National Guard all might be called to the scene.

“The challenge is they’re all on different bands, and they can’t talk to one another,” he said. “I can get the bands on their radios, go in the back [of the mobile communications center], and I can patch radio networks together so they can talk to one another.”

Testing those capabilities and networks in regular exercises like SIMCOM and Miles Paratus are vital to ensure the state’s first responders are ready when needed in a real emergency.

Exercise Notebook: The Wisconsin National Guard awarded Capt. Christopher Robbins with the Meritorious Service Medal for his efforts as the co-project planning officer for the Miles Paratus exercise. Fellow co-project planner and civilian agency lead, Mr. Kevin Wernet, from Wisconsin Emergency Management, was awarded the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs Meritorious Medal for his contributions to planning the five-day exercise.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership SITREP

By Shawn Eklund

– February 22, 2016Posted in: Africa, News - Africa, Press Releases Africa

The following is a situational update from Commodore, Military Sealift Command Europe-Africa; Commander, Task Force 63, Capt. Heidi Agle. It was prepared after Ghanaian and coalition partners tracked and trailed a potential pirate vessel through Ghana’s territorial waters 12-14 February.

Background: U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa conducted Operation Junction Rain (the operational phase of the multi-phase Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP) Program) with Ghana Navy, Marine Police and Joint Fisheries Enforcement Unit (JFEU) personnel 3-14 February 2016. U.S. and Partner nation forces conducted combined Law Enforcement Operations in Ghana’s territorial waters (TTW) and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to build maritime security capacity and increase maritime domain awareness (MDA). U.S. and partner nation forces executed combined Law Enforcement boarding operations to enforce maritime law and deter illegal activity.

Participating Forces: Ghana navy, Marine Police, Joint Fisheries Enforcement Unit (JFEU), USCG LEDET, USN personnel embarked on USNS Spearhead (T-EPF-1).

Sequence of events:
09 Feb French Embassy to Ghana began to pass Spearhead (through the Ghana MOC and U.S. Embassy) info on a potential pirate vessel transiting west through the Ghanaian EEZ enroute to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire to set up for potential piracy cases.

09-10 Feb  Spearhead working with the Ghanaian Western Naval Command (WNC) Maritime Operations Center (MOC), French and U.S. Embassy attempted to locate the M/V Smooft Bonds while it was transiting west through the Ghanaian EEZ with NEGRES.

11 Feb  French Embassy notified Spearhead through Ghana WNC MOC the suspect pirate vessel (Smooft Bonds) was loitering south of the port of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire setting up to attack a vessel in vicinity of the port.

12 Feb  French Embassy notified Spearhead through Ghana WNC MOC the suspect pirate vessel (Smooft Bonds) attacked the M/T Maximus 11 Feb at 2000z, 76 NM South of Abidjan.  French Embassy confirmed the presence of pirates onboard the M/T MAXIMUS and state the pirates are trying to sail back to Nigeria.  Fifteen crew safe in citadel room, five crew did not make it to the citadel room.

12 Feb  1130Z Spearhead tasked by 6th Fleet to locate and track the M/T Maximus.

12 Feb  2300Z based on dead reckoning and positions passed by the French Embassy, Spearhead sighted what it believed to be M/T Maximus on radar at 40NM.

13 Feb  1000Z closed to the directed standoff distance of 3NM of M/T Maximus in order to visually ID.  Unable to confirm ship name due to distance and haze.  Able to confirm ship matched description in photos. High confidence that vessel was M/T Maximus.

13 Feb  Tracked M/T Maximus and passed position to Ghana WNC and ENC MOCs. Ghanaian navy vessel Naa Gbewaa enroute to relieve Spearhead of vessel escort.

13 Feb  Spearhead departed scene for port call and turned over vessel escort to Ghana navy vessel Naa Gbewaa.

14 Feb  Naa Gbewaa on scene with M/T Maximus and intends to query and escort vessel through Ghana EEZ for handoff to Togo Navy at EEZ boundary.

***This case highlights the successful communications between Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo Embassies/MOCs as well as coordination with their Navy and USNS Spearhead.  The French Embassy tracked the vessel for at least a week prior and attempted to coordinate an interdiction prior to the pirate attack with Ghana and Togo navies.  Once the pirates attack, communication flowed through all MOCs and underway assets that allowed accurate tracking and successful handoff of the vessel.

Observations/Lessons Learned:

-U.S. Africa Command and U.S Naval Forces Africa have worked with Ghana since 2014 by utilizing a USCG Law Enforcement Detachment aboard a U.S. Naval vessel to support an embarked Ghana law enforcement detachment.

-Ghana continues to demonstrate capability improvements as witnessed over these the last years of operations.

-Operational results always vary due to external factors of weather and maritime activity.

The following are the historical results to date:

-(2014) Four boardings were conducted w/ seven fisheries violations noted on three of the boardings.

-(2015) Six boardings were conducted w/ six fisheries violations noted on three of the boardings.

-(2016) Two boarding conducted to date w/ one fisheries violation noted on one of the boardings.

-Ghana credits AMLEP/OJR with preparing their teams that supported an independent Ghanaian take down of a pirated vessel in 2015.

-Interagency coordination:

- During the course of operations, interagency coordination and synchronization resulted in the successful location, tracking, monitoring and hand off of MT Maximus

- Maritime Patrol Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA) support: Limited visibility (due to Harmattan) hindered Ghanaian Air Force ability to support

-MPRA would have been beneficial for confirming identify of M/T Maximus

- Communications between French Embassy, U.S. Embassy, Western Naval Command MOC, Eastern Naval Command MOC, and Spearhead were outstanding.  All Partners Access Network chat was instrumental to communicating with Ghana Navy for status updates of Maximus position and their Navy vessels position.

- Spearhead could not identify vessel by name at 3 nautical miles.

- Handoff to Ghana Navy worked well and Maximus location was known at all times during its transit through the Ghana EEZ.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Naval War College Participates in Cutlass Express Africa for First Time

By Daniel L. Kuester, U.S. Naval War College Public Affairs

PORT VICTORIA, Seychelles (NNS) -- U.S. Naval War College (NWC) faculty participated in exercise Cutlass Express 2016, developing an exercise for the event designed to help African nations and stakeholders cooperate in their maritime environment.

U.S. 6th Fleet has operated Cutlass Express for five years and the exercise is designed to improve regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness, and information-sharing practices to increase capabilities of East African and Indian Ocean nations to counter sea-based illicit activity.

NWC faculty took part in the senior leader engagement portion of the exercise that involved high-level decision makers and leaders from the 17 nations, as well as several international organizations.

At the conclusion of the exercise, senior leaders took part in a NWC war game designed to work through how affected countries would deal with the various threats.

"Cutlass Express has always been a maritime exercise that was to promote tactical and operational cooperation among the navies," said Jeff Landsman, associate professor of war gaming at NWC. "This is the first time where they had Naval War College come in and do a war game. We had the countries go through situations that had elements of terrorism, poaching, criminal elements and corruption, and we'll see if the answers they came up with hold water. With so many nations bordering the area, cooperation is important to the region's stability."

Landsman said the war game stressed the ability of African nations to cooperate.

"One of the things we are trying to do is to regionalize or to allow national maritime operational centers to start to coordinate more," he said. "And it is not just ships and helicopters, but it now involves directing those ships across various nations."

Rear Adm. Thomas Reck, vice commander of U.S. 6th Fleet, stressed that the expertise brought by NWC was a welcome addition to Cutlass Express.

"By facilitating strategic thinking in a collaborative and academic setting linked to Cutlass Express, this seminar provided by the Naval War College helps facilitate strategy development as well as build further links of cooperation within the region," he said.

The war game was also designed to help participants broaden their problem-solving skills in a maritime environment and ability to develop a course of action that supports strategic priorities and objectives.

Larry McCabe, associate professor of national security affairs at NWC, said the task of translating strategy into capabilities is difficult in some regions that have not traditionally done that.

"That connection between how strategies impact capabilities isn't always there in many countries around the world," McCabe said.

"A major goal of Cutlass Express 16, as an ongoing exercise, is to increase interoperability amongst maritime security stakeholders in the East Africa region," said Capt. Scott Ruston, the exercise director for Cutlass Express 2016. "By bringing senior leaders together, we unite a strategic-level interoperability with tactical-level operations at sea. This makes Cutlass Express a more comprehensive exercise."

Cutlass Express is one of four regional Express Series exercises facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet that focus on increasing interagency capabilities in deterring counter-piracy, counter-illicit trafficking, and other maritime threats in the waters off East Africa.

"Cutlass Express is an exercise that works with partner nations near the Horn of Africa, and some interests outside the region, to build and maintain maritime regional coordination that the countries could not achieve as individually," added Landsman.

Countries participating in Cutlass Express 2016 include Australia, Canada, Comoros, Djibouti, France, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as representatives from the Eastern Africa Standby Force, EU Naval Force, International Maritime Organization, and Combined Task Force 150.

Seychelles Lt. Col. Phillp Barbe said the exercise has been enlightening.

"Being an infantryman, I've found learning how the navy operates is incredibly enriching experience," he said.