SOUDA BAY, Crete (June 1, 2011) – Phoenix Express 2011 (PE-11), a multi-national maritime exercise between U.S., North African and European naval forces, held a pre-sail kickoff meeting here June 1, bringing together for the first time since the exercise began ten days ago the Task Force Phoenix Express commander and the commanding officers and crew of the eight ships participating in the exercise.
Maritime and land forces from 13 countries are participating in the international military partnering exercise that began with maritime interdiction operations (MIO) boarding team training for participating countries on May 23, and will continue into an underway phase commencing June 7. The exercise, scheduled to conclude on June 15, serves as a unique training opportunity to enhance each country’s ability to work together to deter illicit trafficking at sea.
“Phoenix Express is a coalition training exercise in the Mediterranean that we do in the summer, primarily with those countries that encircle the Mediterranean Sea,” said Rear Adm. Kenneth J. “K.J.” Norton, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategy, Resources, and Plans. “We are doing maritime interdiction operations as well as visit, board, search and seizure exercises. The multinational relationships we are forming here are key. As we are seeing here today, the partnerships and friendships that we form during these types of exercises we are able to apply in real world operations.”
The combined maritime forces during the exercise will emphasize common safety and security concerns in the maritime environment, as well as illegal immigration, criminal activity, narcotics trafficking and weapons trafficking, during the underway training phase as a part of the MIO visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) exercises.
“What we are doing here is bringing together coalition partners to address common problems that affect all of our Mediterranean partners,” said Rear Adm. Michael Tillotson, Commander, U.S. Navy Expeditionary Combat Command. “This exercise is helping to foster international relations in a number of ways – it reinforces our standing commitment to NATO but it also demonstrates our commitment to the countries of Northern Africa as they deal with the problems of smuggling, human trafficking and drug trafficking through the Mediterranean on its way to Europe.”
While underway, ships and their crew will focus on Maritime Domain Awareness and the automatic identification system, to include interaction between forces afloat and the Combined Maritime Operations Center ashore in Sigonella (Sicily), Italy. Combined maritime forces will also execute a series of scenarios exercising force protection measures, MIO – to include VBSS and helicopter VBSS (HVBSS) – search and rescue, replenishment at sea, towing and helicopter operations.
U.S. units participating in Phoenix Express include USS Robert G. Bradley (FFG 49), USS Stephen W. Groves (FFG 29) and Military Sealift Command’s maritime prepositioning ship USNS LCPL Roy M. Wheat (T-AK 3016) and fleet replenishment oiler USNS Big Horn (T-AO 198). Additional U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa staff personnel also will participate in this exercise alongside navies and armed forces personnel from Albania, Algeria, Croatia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia, and Turkey.
For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe -U.S. Naval Forces Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/naveur/.