Technicians of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) ScanEagle used to scan for mines from the air, carry it after bringing it back onboard USS Ponce during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) in the Middle East Gulf May 13, 2013. Forty-one nations are taking part in the mine-sweeping exercise that ends on May 30. Picture taken May 13. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed (MIDDLE EAST GULF - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY) Image Credit: REUTERS

Manama:A major international navy drill, the largest of its kind in the Gulf, has been hailed as highly successful.

The International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2013 (IMCMEX 13) that brought together more than 40 nations concluded at US Naval Forces Central Command in the Bahraini capital Manama on Thursday after two weeks of seminars and training operations in a wide spectrum of defensive operations designed to protect international commerce and trade.

“From my standpoint, the exercise has been a great success,” Admiral John W. Miller, the commander of the US Naval Forces Central Command, said. “We had more than a week of very complex at-sea operations with both our partners here that are from the region here and then from outside the region in fact from across the entire globe and we also had great participation from industry as well. From that standpoint, we are very pleased with the success of the exercise,” he told the media at the end of the exercise.

Miller insisted that the exercise “was not against any particular nation, nor was it conducted to counter some nations’ threat.”

“We used the drill to test out our anti-mine preparedness and equipment that can be used to detect and deal with those threats if they happened,” he said.

The exercise was an opportunity to learn more about the Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs), known as underwater drones, and how well they worked how, to best utilize them,” the admiral added.

Over 6,500 service members, 35 ships, and three Task Forces operated the length of the Gulf, through the Strait of Hormuz, and into the Gulf of Oman.

Task Force platforms included helicopters conducting over 70 sorties, ships steaming over 8,000 nautical miles, and UUVs searching over 70 square nautical miles. More than 40 nations, including Japan, United Kingdom, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, France, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Norway, Netherlands, and Estonia, took part in the largest exercise of its kind in the region.

“We cannot constrain these exercises to merely mine countermeasures when the

problem is clearly from port of departure to port of arrival. We have to include maritime security more broadly and we have to include maritime infrastructure protection,” Commodore Simon Ancona, deputy commander of the Combined Maritime Forces, and Commander of this year’s International Maritime Exercise Force (IMEF), said.

Mine countermeasures (MCM) operations included ships, crews and observers underway to conduct training in at-sea manoeuvres, mine hunting operations, helicopter (MCM) operations, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) operations, and UUVs.

“The exercise continued to validate the afloat staging base concept, employing the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary amphibious assault vessel RFA Cardigan Bay (L3009) and the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15), as a platform for mine countermeasures,” the US Nay said in an email to Gulf News.

Maritime security operations focused on an outward facing force protection concept that provides a safe environment for ships to conduct MCM and MIP, the Navy said.

The operations allow naval vessels to escort convoys and ensure that commercial shipping navigates safely through chokepoints and de-mined sea lanes for the free flow of international goods. The exercise also focused on naval forces and civilian mariners planning and executing a multi-national convoy including a large natural gas tanker through the Strait of Hormuz.

Maritime security operations (MSO) including search and rescue, mass casualty treatment, boarding, search and seizure, and 470 nautical miles of shipping escort from Fujairah, UAE, to Qatar.

A three-day Maritime Infrastructure Protection Symposium provided an exchange of ideas as industry representatives discussed means to ensure the safety of maritime commerce through vital sea lanes and at strategic sea ports with senior leaders from participating countries.

Maritime infrastructure protection (MIP) included close engagement with industry

partners, conducting a table-top oil-spill exercise, and standing up a cell to coordinate military and civilian shipping.

In addition, mass casualty drills that simulated maritime accidents extended the infrastructure protection concept to include medical triage and evacuation of injured personnel.

“We had representatives here as part of the exercise from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, the Western Pacific. That gives us a very good idea of the fact that many nations understand this is a global problem with global consequences that will require a global response,” Miller said.

The exercise was conducted in the US Central Command area of responsibility that encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water and includes the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean.

Twenty countries comprise the expanse that includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab Al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.