Panama Canal Defense Exercise Begins

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. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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