By Samuel Elliott Novacich, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On April 26th, the USS Nitze American warship and other crafts from Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina, with staff member presence from Chile and Peru, met off the coast of Rio de Janeiro to take part in the 52nd annual UNITAS naval exercises. Meant to bolster cooperation and interoperability, the drills included, in addition to coordinated maritime maneuvers, replenishment at sea practice, air operations, and live fire exercises.
The UNITAS exercises commenced officially on April 15th, in Salvador da Bahia with participants from Brazil, Mexico and the United States. The coalition then migrated south to Rio de Janeiro where they were joined by Argentina, Chile, and Peru.
During the middle phase of the South American leg of the UNITAS exercises, participants came together in Rio for six days, where they had the opportunity to visit local sites and compete in sporting events with other navies.
The UNITAS drills are run every year, though some speculate that participation of Latin American nations is heavily influenced by the United States, who cover a majority of the costs.
Mark Pannell, Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro, clarifies: “Participating navies do so of their own choosing, as there is no requirement to participate. The U.S. often covers a large percentage of the costs, allowing in this way a greater number of navies to fully participate in the exercises.”
Pannell also points to other considerations that have in the past determined participation, such as availability of equipment, personnel, and logistical demands.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze, the United States’ primary ship taking part in the maneuvers, was manned by approximately 500 U.S. sailors. A significant portion of the drills this year focused on communication, a vital component to effective military collaboration.
“There are always some challenges caused by differences in language,” Pannell says of the exercises that join English, Portuguese, and Spanish speakers, however participation and practice is meant to help overcome these barriers, reducing miscommunication to a minimum.
Once the navies depart Rio de Janeiro, they will engage in the second half of the UNITAS drills, known as the at-sea exercise scenario phase (ESP), in which the ships will simulate real-world events.
Lieutenant Matt Comer, Public Affairs Officer for UNITAS Southern Sea, explains: “One side will try to enforce UN sanctions and the other side will attempt to evade enforcement. This will include a several types of naval training from division movement tactics and submarine defense to live-fire exercises and Visit Board Search and Seizure. These exercises are designed to build our seamanship and navigation…fundamental in accomplishing any mission.”
UNITAS, Latin for “unity,” are the world’s longest running joint naval exercises, with the ultimate purpose of preparing the navies of each participating nation in cooperative response to a variety of maritime situations. The drills are some of the largest of their type in the world, during which navies act as members of a multinational task force to practice coordinated maneuvers and improve interoperability.
The last time a major United States Navy vessel was in Rio was when the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson made a stopover in February 2010. The visit was during Operation Unified Response, the international humanitarian aid mission to assist Haiti after the disastrous earthquake.