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Circa 2002

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...UNITAS Atlantic Phase Hones Readiness Level of Multinational Naval Force - Story Number: NNS021122-17 - Release Date: 11/25/2002 5:00:00 AM - By LT. j.g. Ligia Cohen, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command..." Navy News Stand http://www.news.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=4711 [02MAR2005]

SALVADOR, Brazil (NNS) -- The complexities of 12 surface combatants, two submarines, and several helicopters and fix-wing aircraft from six nations operating together as a combined force was the hallmark of UNITAS Atlantic Phase.

Hosted by the Brazilian Navy, naval forces from Argentina, Spain, Uruguay, Venezuela and the United States spent 20 days engaged in exercises designed to improve interoperability and to foster understanding among the naval forces of the participant nations.

Rear Adm. Vinson E. Smith, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, commands the UNITAS task force and is in charge of all the U.S. naval forces participating in the four phases of this annual exercise. UNITAS Atlantic phase concluded this year's cycle, which started in February with the Caribbean phase hosted by the United States. In July, Chile hosted the Pacific Phase, while the amphibious phase was conducted bilaterally with several South American nations during a four-month deployment of USS Portland (LSD 37) and the embarked 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.

Under the operational command of Capt. James L. Martin, Commander Destroyer Squadron 6, the U.S. task group engaged in training and operations in electronic, anti-submarine, anti-surface and submarine warfare. Communications, air defense and maritime interdiction operations were also heavily emphasized during UNITAS.

The U.S. participation included guided-missile cruiser USS Thomas S. Gates (CG 51), guided-missile frigate USS Simpson (FFG 56), P-3C aircraft from VP-92 and VP-61, two SH-60B helicopter detachments, a Fleet Maritime Patrol Mobile Operations Control Center, a detachment from Fleet Composite Squadron (VC) 6 and a communications assistance team.

"The wide range of naval operations covered in UNITAS Atlantic phase presented a great opportunity for participants to operate and train in a multiship environment," said Martin. "It's not just the surface portion, but also submarine and air exercises keep the crews focused on areas not normally exercised in this area of operations."

The at-sea portion of the exercise started off with demanding close-range tactical maneuvering operations. At times operating as close as 250 yards, the ships executed different types of formations for war fighting and practiced ship handling during evolutions, such as underway replenishments, restrictive waterways transit and air defense.

"These exercises allowed me to experience the challenges of working in extremely demanding situations and creating successful solutions," said Lt.j.g. Denise Garcia aboard USS Thomas S. Gates, homeported in Pascagoula, Miss. "Every (bridge) watch brought a new scenario and helped sharpen my problem-solving skills."

A series of opposed underway replenishments, vertical replenishments and refueling at sea operations were carried out to hone a key element in the ability of naval forces to sustain operations at sea, and the procurement of goods and supplies. During the exercise, the multinational force was refueled at sea by the Brazilian ship BNS Almirante Gastao Motta (G 23) and by the Venezuelan ship ARBV Ciudad Bolivar (T 81), while the air safety of the ships was ensured by the Brazilian ship BNS Bosisio (F 48), which was responsible for identifying and clearing all aircraft approaching within 50 nautical miles of the task group.

"The exercises tested the task group's ability to conduct replenishments at sea while under simultaneous attacks by diesel submarines, fast patrol boats and fighter aircraft," said Chief Operations Specialist (SW) Frederick Warren from U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command.

Thomas S. Gates led the training on maritime interdiction operations (MIO). These evolutions are widely conducted during coalition operations to fight illegal traffic and maintain the safety of the sea-lanes. During the MIO training, the Thomas S. Gates team boarded the Spanish ship SRS Reina Sofia.

"During a boarding, the team has three main goals: take control of the bridge, the engineering plant and the crew," said Senior Chief Gunner's Mate Dionicio Delgado, the MIO/ VBSS (visit, board, search and seizure) boarding team leader. "MIO boardings are inherently dangerous operations, and the training allows us to focus in the safety aspects of the evolution."

In support of one of the main goals of the exercise, to develop the force ability to coordinate attacks and battle group defense, the ships conducted a variety of live fire evolutions ranging from .50-caliber guns to surface-to-air missiles. The U.S. flagship Thomas S. Gates scored an impressive skin-on-skin kill on the first pass of the remote-controlled BMQ-64E aerial target drone launched by VC-6. On its part, the Mayport, Fla.-based frigate USS Simpson displayed readiness by successfully engaging the target.

"We got everything together and demonstrated how a successful missile shoot is done," said Fire Controlman 2nd Class (SW) Drew Holm, the weapons console operator aboard Simpson. "It was very exciting when I saw birds affirm and when I got batteries release."

"Once the bird leaves the rail, there is a combined feeling of relief and pride knowing that you got your job done," added Fire Controlman 1st Class (SW) Jason Fowler, Simpson's weapons control officer.

Later during the exercise, the participating ships conducted a three-day freeplay scenario, which involved a combined multinational response to enforce international sanctions similar to existing U.N. resolutions, which the Navy has been upholding for the previous decade.

"Submarines, aircraft and surface combatants combined to enforce an embargo. They established a no-fly zone and conducted a naval blockade against the aggressor," said Warren. "Additional challenging exercises conducted include a coordinated helo (penguin) attack, surface gunnery firing and a choke point transit exercise."

More than 60 operational events were completed during UNITAS Atlantic Phase. Each event was designed by naval experts from all nations involved to resemble to real-world situations.

"The Brazilian navy was a great host and put together an excellent schedule of events," said Commodore Martin. "This phase of UNITAS was extremely beneficial for the defense cooperation among all the participating countries."

After 59 years of existence, UNITAS, the premiere naval exercise in the region, continues to be a uniting force, bringing nations together to enhance the region defense and military interoperability.

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