130521-N-PV215-101 5TH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS (May 21, 2013) - Combined Task Force 521 conducts convoy escort operations with a large natural gas tanker during International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2013 (IMCMEX). IMCMEX 13 includes navies from more than 40 countries and will exercise a wide spectrum of defensive operations designed to protect international commerce and trade. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Bryan Blair/Released) http://www.flickr.com/photos/navcent/8802318716/

Warships practice escorting a tanker through the Persian Gulf.

Just nine months after hosting the biggest multinational mine-warfare exercises “ever” to be held in and around the Persian Gulf, the Navy’s 5th Fleet and its foreign partners outdid themselves with a second, even larger wargame. More than 20 nations participated in September’s International Mine Counter-Measures Exercise 2012, collaborating against fictional ecoterrorists whose capabilities were suspiciously similar to the real-world arsenal of Iran. This month, 41 nations and some private-sector companies participated in IMCMEX 2013, which despite the name expanded beyond minesweeping to practice protecting civilian oil tankers, oil rigs, ports, and even desalinization plants as well.

With participants from six continents, “the only part of the world that wasn’t represented in this exercise was Antarctica,” boasted Vice Adm. John Miller, the jet fighter pilot who commands both the US 5th Fleet and the multinational Combined Maritime Forces. “It was much more complicated than the exercise we put on back in September.”

 35 ships, 70 aircraft, and 6,500 personnel from 41 countries participated in the exercises.


35 ships, 70 aircraft, and 6,500 personnel from 41 countries participated in the exercises.

In fact, the most important thing to practice wasn’t mine warfare itself, but coordinating a diverse multinational force. Not all 41 nations contributed warships, but there were still 35 vessels from patrol boats to the Navy’s “Afloat Forward Staging Base,” the USS Ponce; some 70 aircraft; some 18 unmanned underwater vehicles for minehunting (i.e. flying and swimming drones); and 6,500 personnel, including 100 divers trained to disarm mines by hand. That’s dozens of different languages, standards of training, and communications technologies, none of them necessarily compatible with one another. So while amateurs may talk strategy and professionals talk logistics, professionals also talk command and control.

MINA SALMAN PEIR, Bahrain, (May 11, 2013) Capt. Andy Elvin, RN, deputy commander, Commander Task Force 52, UK Mine Countermeasures, speaks to multinational servicemembers aboard USS Ponce (LPD 15) prior to the start of the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise. IMCMEX 13 includes navies from more than 40 countries whose focus is to promote regional security through mine countermeasure operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Gary Keen/Released) http://www.flickr.com/photos/navcent/8739972653/in/set-72157633098687339

A British Royal Navy officer briefs a “sea of different colored uniforms” from different nations.

“As I wandered into the briefing room to see a sea of different colored uniforms, it was quite a sight,” said Miller’s deputy, British Royal Navy Commodore Simon Ancona, who ran the exercises day to day. “[But] things like communications data transfer, getting used to tactics that worked for all — as opposed to imposing one set of doctrine… all of that came together extremely well.”

“There was a moment in the exercise where the weather was really quite appalling,”  Ancona said, disrupting the wargame schedule but offering an unplanned-for opportunity to test the multinational command structure’s capacity to adapt to the unexpected. “The ability to command and control flexibly across all those forces [and] adjust,” Ancona said, “was in itself, for me, cause for minor celebration.”

One of “the two largest lessons from last year” was the need for “a properly constituted multinational staff in order to run the exercise,” Ancona added. Further complicating this year’s challenge was the addition of private industry, with private-sector tanker fleets embedding their operations officers in the wargame staff to “coordinate huge numbers of merchant ships.”

The second big lesson from 2012 was that “we can’t constrain these exercises purely to mine countermeasures when the problem is from port of departure to port of arrival,” Ancona said. “We have to include maritime security more broadly, and we have to include infrastructure protection.”

Iran, incidentally, boasts not only an estimated 5,000 naval mines but “swarms” of small, fast attack boats, shore-based anti-ship cruise missiles, surface-to-surface missiles capable of targeting ports or other targets ashore, and a global network of terrorist proxies. So there would be much more than mines to any Iranian attempt to shut down Gulf oil traffic – as suicidal as that would be for the Iranians’ own oil trade – and there would need to be much more than minehunting involved. Indeed, Iran is one of the US Navy and Air Force’s paradigmatic cases of a complex, multi-layered “anti-access/area denial” (A2/AD) defense against which they are developing a concept of operations known as AirSea Battle.

Just as they did last year, however, IMCMEX organizers insist the wargames are not about Iran. The first question at this morning’s press conference was from a Bahraini journalist asking how safe his country’s waters were from both the Iranians and Somali pirates, which Ancona and company emphatically refused to answer. “I don’t want to talk about the individual threats” from whatever source, the British commodore responded. “We are here to practice how to combat the generic threat of mines and the generic threat to both shipping and infrastructure.”

“Those are purely defensive activities,” Vice Adm. Miller emphasized. “These are all absolutely generic lessons which we could apply in almost any of the chokepoints [from] the Strait of Malacca to the Strait of Gibraltar.”

(Miller naturally didn’t drop any names, but according to the best estimates, mine warfare expert Scott Truver told me in an interview, “what’s left of the Soviet Union and Russia have about 25,000 mines; China has roughly 100,000; North Korea has roughly 50,000.” So while Iran’s leaders talk a good game, their arsenal of 5,000 sea mines is actually pretty small. of course, they can be deployed easily by one of the world’s most strategic chokepoints, the Strait of Hormuz).

“Many nations understand this is a global problem with global consequences that will require a global response,” Miller said, and “there’s a lot of enthusiasm” for a third mine warfare wargame in 2014.

NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY BAHRAIN (May 16, 2013) – Kpl. Emmylou Bakker, a Dutch Navy diving medical nurse, climbs from a hyperbaric decompression chamber during a mine diving rescue exercise in support of International Mine Countermeasure Exercise 2013. IMCMEX 13 includes navies from more than 40 countries whose focus is to promote regional security through mine countermeasure operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 1st Class Michael Mui/Released) http://www.flickr.com/photos/navcent/8746249255/in/set-72157633098687339

A Danish nurse checks out a hyperbaric decompression chamber for navy divers.

Comments

  • Don Bacon

    35 ships and 6,500 people arrayed against mythical ecoterrorists and/or pirates who somehow lay sea mines? What’s the cost of that BS exercise? I guess the Pentagon budget must be cut more. These people are in fantasyland.

    • Mike

      That “BS exercise” will come in very handy when the real “angry rounds” begin to fly in the near future…… Or would you rather that we were unprepared when the devil comes calling?…… :(

      • Don Bacon

        See my other comments regarding this BS exercise.

      • jeanette18411

        Being ready
        is not what matters. What matters is winning after you get there.

        • Mike

          Janette,
          Ever been in a firefight? Let me assure you that if you are not prepared before, your chances of “winning” are going to be reduced geometrically….

  • Hammer6

    Great training opportunity that also lets the Iranians know they are up against a united front.

    • Don Bacon

      Iran had its won exercise in the Gulf. The massive Western exercise merely aids Iran in its anti-western policies. It has no other effect, judging from Iran’s reactions which continue to defy Western demands.

      • Hammer6

        I respectfully disagree. Multinational operations will only become more prevalent in the future, and these require training. The training – and the political resolve behind it – reminds the Iranians that there is the capability and will to act. Further, the Arabian Gulf is crowded and the risks for miscalculation are great, all the more reason to train. The opposite course of action is to do nothing, which does not help with any of these important issues.

  • PolicyWonk

    There are many reasons why the US JCS are united against military action against Iran – and its pretty easy to drop mines from any kind of boat. And given the constraints of the Straits of Hormuz, and a pile of anti-ship missiles they been building up/purchasing for decades, the Iranians could make things very expensive for a lot of people – even if it costs them (i.e. they could really spread the joy).

    They would ultimately lose militarily – but they could see to it that no one really wins.

    • Don Bacon

      There will be no attack on Iran.
      First, the UN would have to be warned to remove all inspectors, as in Iraq.
      All US warships would have to be removed from the Persian Gulf to positions at least 50 miles south in the Arabian Sea. They are sitting ducks for cruise missiles in the Gulf.
      Ships are movable, land facilities are not. They are all soft targets for Iran’s extensive arsenal of missiles.
      — al-Minhad air base in Dubai, UAE
      — Fifth Fleet HQ – Bahrain
      — Kuwait, three bases, 15,000 US troops,, including a couple of brigade combat teams and a combat aviation brigade.
      — Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, forward HQ of US Central Command
      — Overall in the region there are reportedly 40,000 American servicemen ready for action.
      — Apparently the families of Coastal Patrol Craft will have the option of moving to the Gulf.

      And then there are other soft targets for Iran and its ally Hezbollah, in Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan.

      Forget an attack. US/Israel threatens attack to take the focus off of the Israel rape of Palestine, and other reasons.

      • Mike

        Don,

        You ever been in the military? Ever have anything to do with military intelligence? Ever watched how well the Israelis work? Do you really think that a strike against Iran by Israel would leave Iran with the capability to strike those bases? Just trying to figure out why you are coming to your conclusions……

    • Mike

      Israel does it and very completely with very little defensive capability from Iran…. Consider the world with virtually no terrorist funding….. In my opinion, it is coming sooner than most believe…. My gut is telling me that our fleet will be safely in the Red Sea watching the Israelis refuel their bombers and fighters overhead……

      • Curtis James

        I hope we loan them our tankers. I don’t think they have any.

        • Mike

          I hear that we are not only selling them KC-135s, but bunker busters, Ospreys, and C-5s

  • Mike

    All that money spent to put a flotilla to sea and yet, the simple discovery of one of the biggest natural gas deposits in the Middle East within the territorial waters or Israel has just changed the balance of power for a long time to come. I’m betting the Russians are already moving to become “new best buddies” with the Israeli’s….. That would not bode well for Iran would it? If I am not mistaken the Iranians are still waiting for those advanced anti-aircraft missiles from Russia. Any bets that they never get delivered? Russia sure would not like to see the Israelis selling their very cheap gas to Europe at prices far below that of the Russians, would they? My gutis telling me that Iran is toast and it all happened over a little gas find in Israel….. Could not have happened to a nicer bunch of folks, aye?

  • Don Bacon

    This wargame-in-the-Gulf business is so yesterday, a replay of WWII which neglects any consideration of technological advances.

    In a nutshell, it’s Anti-Access/Area-Denial, or A2/AD, which includes a layered defense across multiple domains such as land, sea, air, cyber and space seeks to wedge an asymmetrical dagger in the heart of America’s seemingly insurmountable military edge. Weapons such as ultra-quiet diesel submarines, advanced mines, anti-ship weapons, cruise and ballistic missiles, and cyber weapons would seek to engage U.S. forces an in an effort to slow, stop or deter enemy combatants from entering a combat zone or contested geographic areas.

    Iran and China have fashioned their militaries to take advantage of A2/AD, which simply means that while the West can play its games, it really doesn’t rule all the littorals and coastal seas any longer.

    So — play on. Iran doesn’t care, and the Pentagon knows why.

    • Mike

      You have forgotten that China could very easily become one of Israel’s biggest natural gas customers…… Opps, where did that “Big Brother” go? Down the same road as Russia….. Money talks and BS walks……

      • Don Bacon

        Your change of topic is most revealing.

        • Mike

          No change…. Natural gas beats bullets! You’ve missed that…..

  • Sunbird

    Beating the drums of war for the war profiteers, where are the cuts in the bloated Penta-gone budget????

    • Curtis James

      Yes, we should go back to 1941. We trained with broomsticks for rifles, British WWI helmets, and cars with the work TANK written on the side. Let’s see, the Democrats were in charge for 8 years before that, right?
      Germany and Japan were fully equipped and trained.

      • Mike

        Democrats had nothing to do with it. Most of the veterans in Congress are Democrats. We were just coming out of something called the Depression which was brought by the Crash of 1929 after a whole series of Republicans and Republican majority congresses…. Incidentally, the Republicans did the same thing in 1999 when they removed the Glass-Steagall Act which laid the foundation for the same kind of trading as 1929. that trading brought the Financial and Market Panic of October 2007, on the watch of Cheney/Bush!….. It was that act under FDR which gave the market a firm bottom in 1934….

  • Leon Engelun

    Time for Iran to get pissed and declare war on someone.

  • qsfoxx

    HuffinPuff headlined…”New Drone Makes Its Aerial Debut” So, where’s the beef? I didn’t see anything about a new drone in this article. Once again, HuffinPuff screws up.