By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2011 – One of the world’s largest multinational military exercises gets under way today to test plans to defend the Panama Canal.
Some 3,500 military and civilian personnel from 17 countries are participating in the 12-day exercise dubbed PANAMAX 2011, U.S. Southern Command officials said.
Co-sponsored by Southcom and the Panamanian government, PANAMAX is a joint, combined operation focused on defending one of the world’s most strategic and economically crucial waterways for global trade, officials said.
This year’s exercise focuses on building the interoperability and capacity that would be necessary to defend the canal in the event of a threat, Southcom spokesman Jose Ruiz said.
“We hope the Panama Canal will never have to be defended from a serious threat,” Ruiz said, “but capacity is a very important part of being able to respond to emerging threats.” While the participating countries have an interest in the canal, two-thirds of the canal’s shipping traffic is from the United States, Ruiz noted.
The exercise will develop and test the command and control of forces at sea, involving participants in maritime, air, land, space and cyber operations, he said. Scenarios include open water diving operations, counterdrug interdictions and simulated river operations.
PANAMAX will take place off the coasts of Panama, Texas, Florida and Mississippi through Aug. 26.
The PANAMAX exercise series began in 2003 with the United States, Panama and Chile participating, Ruiz said. Interest in the exercise and in protecting the canal has grown over the years, he added, and participation has expanded to as many as 20 partner countries, he added.
“We worked with our partner nations for many years with the approach that regional security challenges require regional solutions and approaches,” he said.