Panama — Multinational Exercise Focuses on Panama Canal Defense

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2010 — More than 2,000 par­tic­i­pants from 18 coun­tries are tak­ing part in Pana­max 2010, one of the world’s largest multi­na­tion­al mar­itime train­ing exer­cis­es, aimed at defense of the Pana­ma Canal.

Cospon­sored by U.S. South­ern Com­mand and the Pana­man­ian gov­ern­ment, the 12-day exer­cise that kicked off Aug. 16 brings togeth­er sea, air and land forces in a joint, com­bined oper­a­tion focused on defend­ing one of the world’s most strate­gic and eco­nom­i­cal­ly cru­cial water­ways, South­com offi­cials said.

Par­tic­i­pants will test their ground, naval, air and spe­cial oper­a­tors’ abil­i­ty to respond to threats to the Pana­ma Canal dur­ing the exer­cise tak­ing place in the waters off Pana­ma and Colom­bia, and also in Mia­mi and May­port, Fla., and Nor­folk, Va.

In addi­tion, Pana­max 2010 par­tic­i­pants will exer­cise their abil­i­ty to plan for a major human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief mis­sion in the region, offi­cials said.

Major play­ers in the exer­cise –- part live play and part vir­tu­al –- include U.S. 4th Fleet, which will exer­cise com­mand and con­trol from its mar­itime oper­a­tions cen­ter in May­port, Fla.; and U.S. 2nd Fleet, which will serve as a joint task force lead­ing a multi­na­tion­al force oper­at­ing under a Unit­ed Nations res­o­lu­tion.

USNS Grasp and U.S. Coast Guard Cut­ter For­ward are among 24 ves­sels tak­ing part in the exer­cise, as well as units from 12th Air Force in Tuc­son, Ariz., and U.S. Army South from Fort Sam Hous­ton, Texas.

Ser­vice­mem­bers par­tic­i­pat­ing in Pana­max bring a broad range of capa­bil­i­ties, explained Jose Ruiz, a South­com spokesman. They rep­re­sent med­ical, div­ing and sal­vage units, explo­sive ord­nance dis­pos­al and river­ine units, all with roles to play in the evolv­ing exer­cise sce­nario.

Speak­ing dur­ing Aug. 16 open­ing cer­e­monies in May­port, Navy Rear Adm. Vic Guil­lo­ry, com­man­der of U.S. Naval Forces South­ern Com­mand and U.S. 4th Fleet, empha­sized the impor­tance of part­ner­ships and the role of glob­al mar­itime forces in pro­tect­ing the Pana­ma Canal Zone.

Pana­max offers “a tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ty to share and exchange infor­ma­tion and learn from one anoth­er in a coali­tion and joint envi­ron­ment,” he said.

Speak­ing in Nor­folk, Navy Vice Adm. Daniel P. Hol­loway, com­man­der of U.S. 2nd Fleet and direc­tor of the Com­bined Joint Oper­a­tions from the Sea Cen­tre of Excel­lence, said Pana­max will pro­mote inter­op­er­abil­i­ty that’s crit­i­cal in that joint coali­tion envi­ron­ment.

“We want to do these exer­cis­es now, at a time of peace, so that if the cri­sis occurs, we have already estab­lished the pro­to­cols in our rela­tion­ships,” he said.

In addi­tion to the Unit­ed States and Pana­ma, par­tic­i­pants in Pana­max 2010 include Argenti­na, Belize, Brazil, Cana­da, Chile, Colom­bia, Domini­can Repub­lic, Ecuador, El Sal­vador, Guatemala, Hon­duras, Mex­i­co, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

Pana­max has grown dra­mat­i­cal­ly since 2003, when Pana­ma, Chile and the Unit­ed States con­duct­ed the first exer­cise in the series. Last year, par­tic­i­pa­tion peaked with 20 nations tak­ing part in Pana­max 2009. Col­lec­tive­ly, they con­tributed about 7,000 troops, more than 30 ships and a dozen air­craft to the exer­cise.

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

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