A Fond Farewell to IMCMEX

8768061894_3b889b182a_h

Greetings Readers. As the end of International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2013 has past, and exercise staffs have turned in their reviews of what went wrong and what went right, it’s time to reflect on what the exercise accomplished.

8779354149_53ea5cacbe_zThough ships operated in fewer geographical areas this year, international forces operated in more locations performing a wider variety of missions. Although IMCMEX 12 set a tough standard–more than 30 nations, three widely disparate operating areas–a new year rose to the challenge by widening our objectives and perspectives.

As we have said on multiple occasions, 13 brings us industry participation with very large crude carriers, an increased number of patrol coastal ships from many nations to support infrastructure protection and maritime security operations for naval forces, industry shipping, and at-sea oil terminals involved in exercise events.

8785831850_e72cab684a_zA relative footnote on the serial list, but a major undertaking none the less, were the two casualty drills. As a Navy, we drill medical readiness and responses regularly to ensure that trained personnel are prepared to respond with life-saving speed and expertise. IMCMEX 13 included a seriously cool mass casualty drill where a simulated mine attack on a commercial ship caused extensive damage where mariners were severely injured and needed evacuation to a medical facility. The closest stabilizing facilities were aboard RFA Cardigan Bay and USS Ponce. The cool part comes in where the simulated wounded were made-up to be gruesome in accordance to their simulated injuries.

Any time international navies meet, techniques are developed, best practices are learned, and knowledge is broadened for the betterment of the international community. In this case, it is truly important we take these lesson and continue to apply them to future exercises. Because, it is not one country who benefits from mine countermeasure, maritime security and infrastructure protection proficiency, but all of them. All rely on sea-going commerce after all.

8764812494_1332e2ba31_zThis post isn’t intended to be a re-cap of the exercise, we’ve done that, I’m here to bid a fond farewell to an exciting, complex exercise that embraced a myriad of separate events and knitted them together in a quilt of participation and expertise. Sure, a RHIB broke down here, some computers had trouble syncing up, and some events didn’t get finished due to environmental and safety concerns; but these lessons are the thread that stitches this year’s exercise with future iterations of International Mine Countermeasures Exercise.

So long, biggest little exercise in the world, we’ll see you next time.

-Fleet LT

Advertisements

In the Shallows: Patrol Coastal Pride

27FEB2013 (52)130508-N-PK218-109Why focus on Patrol Coastal ships again? They’re an important part of protecting shipping while in transit, and protecting infrastructure at sea and in the shallows. To further emphasise this, Fleet Forces recently announced that 2 additional PCs will be sent to operate with Manama, Bahrain as their forward deployed home along with a maintenance support team.

The at-sea portion of IMCMEX 13 is just past its center point and PCs have played key roles. Here to talk about what they are contributing to the exercise is Capt. Stephen Evans, commander of Destroyer Squadron 50.

-Fleet LT

120620-N-WB378-044Over 40 nations have joined us here to participate in a wide spectrum of operations designed to protect the routes of international commerce and trade. IMCMEX is a defensive exercise that focuses on keeping vital sea lanes open so the world economy is not affected by acts of terrorism or criminal activity. A stable world economy is dependent upon the unencumbered movement of food, consumer goods, raw materials and energy products through the Arabian Gulf and its associated chokepoints. To ensure these goods continue to freely move through this region, the global community must work together not only during exercises but everyday to keep the sea lanes open.

While Mine Countermeasure ships and divers from the navies of nations throughout the world conduct mine clearing operations other ships will be watching over them to keep them safe. The U.S. Navy patrol coastal ship (PC) sails on the frontline of this defense patrolling the waters of the Arabian Gulf and working with both Gulf Region States and coalition allies performing Maritime Security Operations (MSO) and Maritime Infrastructure Protection (MIP). The PCs are perfectly suited for the complex waters of the Arabian Gulf, where over 80% of operations are in water less than 39 feet, the shallow draft alone gives these ships an edge in the region. Fast and agile with punching power, they have a distinct advantage making them a vital part of operations like Mine Countermeasure Defense.

111001-N-VN693-288-660x462

As multi-mission ships, the Patrol Coastal ships offer a reliable platform that is flexible in operations and an invaluable force multiplier. While they won’t sit center stage during the IMCMEX, they are a key component to it’s safe and successful execution. I have been proud to watch these small ships shine.

-Capt. Stephen Evans, Commodore of Destroyer Squadron 50

Adding Industry to a Military Exercise is Good for the Environment

BL18_LOG_NEW_VLCC_1056331f

IMCMEX is a multinational, defense-based military exercise aimed to address and counter threats in the maritime environment. Industry operates a crucial energy trade and 30% of the world’s crude flows through the 5th Fleet area of responsibility. So how could military and industry combining efforts be good for the environment? Teamwork of course.

FactoryEmerging and established economies the world over have an energy dependency on fossil fuels, some less than others, but the fact remains that with such a large demand these energy sources must be carried in large volumes to help keep operating and transport costs low. Nearly 1/3 of all energy consumed comes from oil or refined oil products, and in 2012 reached 88 million barrels per day (1 barrel = 42 U.S. gallons). With all of this oil being pulled from the ground, all over the world, and transported to the countries that require it, there are remarkably few accidents, spills or explosions throughout the process.

effectofoilspillMany would say that even one incident a year, a decade is disastrous to the environment, and they would be right. Though an industrial scale accident, or losing a supertanker to a mine or similar attack, would affect oil prices somewhat; the price of one tanker (aprox. $120M ship + $55M in oil) is relatively inconsequential to the global oil trade (aprox. $9bn/day). The environment is not so lucky.

NOAA_oilspill_1The international shipping community has significantly reduced the number of marine spills over the last decade. Even with this dramatic reduction the prevention of these events must remain a priority. One tanker full of oil can be devastating to coastal and marine wildlife in the short-term, and can change entire ecosystems if not addressed and rectified. There can be many contributors to a spill, be it accidental, malfunction or an act of violence; and several can be prevented. This is why industry training with global militaries is good for the environment.

8267579164_4e311fb809_cA significant portion of IMCMEX 13’s agenda is focused on maritime security operations, to include a commercial shipping escort through a simulated mine field. While mines are not the only form of attack these merchant ships are vulnerable to (waterborne IEDs, explosive laden small boats, piracy, etc.), it is a demonstration of the preventable disaster that would adversely affect the environment. Similar events are being held at offshore oil stations as part of a maritime infrastructure protection focus against violent extremists damaging or controlling important infrastructure in the region.

It is far easier to prevent an environmental disaster than to clean it up, and the Oil Spill Response Seminar and table-top exercise during IMCMEX was designed to address protection and prevention concerns, and how to mobilize an effective response to an oil spill should prevention efforts fail.

oil-spill-clean-up-2Alex Walker, a representative of industry for the exercise, led the Oil Spill Response discussion. During the multiple presentations, agencies like a UK-based Oil Spill Service Center based, Navy Coordination and Guidance At Sea and the Maritime Liaison Office; leaders covered international policy, safety of life at sea, communication challenges between militaries, agencies and industry, and what mariners can do at each level of the problem to preserve life and minimize the effects that a damaged crude carrier would have on the environment and other shipping.

Walker went on to comment during an interview that any response effort is about the safety of people and the environment. “The Navy has always taken environmental concerns very seriously,” Walker said. “This forum gives us the opportunity to explore that aspect in more detail.”

Oil spills are complicated. Their behavior relies on  surface tension of the oil product, specific gravity of the product, the viscosity and multiple environmental factors (an overview of behavior and effects).  To make things harder, oil characteristics and environmental factors dictate what response options would be most effective in treating the crisis (a simple interactive guide). These responses take a great deal of cooperation and coordination and Oil Spill Response discussions like in IMCMEX 13 are crucial to an effective, international, military and industry combined response.

While safety of mariners is paramount, concern for how we are affecting the environment is ever-present.

More information about oil spill response is available via the U.S. EPA and NOAA  response pages, as well as International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation and many other pages.

-Fleet LT

The Benefit of Big Meetings: MIPS

mips conference

Meetings are designed to share information. Whether its superior to subordinate to give direction and orders, subordinate to superior to upload finished tasks or issues to the higher eschelon brain space, or even to generate a communal thought through brainstorming and collaboration; these are all part of an information exchange process that has occured since earliest life developed ways to communicate and work together.

dispersants7Big meetings, like those between corporations, agencies and militaries are no different. At their base level, they are an information exchange, but on a massive scale. True, these types of gatherings tend toward the brainstorm and communal thought area of exchange, but that is a great thing when it comes to military and inter-agency meetings. Sharing best practices, techniques, and technology for endeavors like Maritime Infrastructure Protection leads to a general increase of knowledge and ability across assembled participants.

While world militaries are not best known for sharing, for concerns like piracy and Infrastructure Protection; a coordinated, multinational response is vital to protect commercial and military assets from threats in the maritime environment. This need for cooperation and coordination are what drive gatherings such as the Maritime Infrastructure Protection Symposium (MIPS).

mmsThis year marks the sixth MIPS here in Bahrain, and this year 130 participants from 41 countries and multiple industry’s attended from 13 – 15 May, as part of International Mine Countermeasures Exercise. Information, best practices and technology were shared via presentations, static displays and expert panels. Presentations included Liquid Natural Gas Shipping and Safety Concerns, unmanned underwater vehicle developments, Cyber Threats to Maritime Infrastructure, Law of Naval Mining, Marine Mammal Systems, and Oil Spill Response: Security Considerations and Overview of International Response Systems to name a few.

AXR_0816The panel of senior leaders included Vice Adm. John Miller, commander, Naval Surface Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet, Combined Maritime forces; 2 GCC navy officials and 2 representatives of industry participants. They primarily discussed the importance of maritime cooperation at sea; oil spill response and threats to energy carriers; and information exchange between military, agency and industry partners to enhance the effectiveness and timliness of coordinated efforts.

AXR_0601While no physical forces were moved, no rounds fired, and little money spent; Symposiums and large-scale meetings bring to light national and international concerns, act as a venue for adressing them, and pave the way for solving them should concerns become a reality.

Meetings don’t have to be tedious or boring. When the international community meets to discuss security concerns, they certainly have my interest.

-Fleet LT

Afloat Forward Staging Base: One year on Station

8738602810_70f0d900ed_c

Good day readers! Just got back from being underway on USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) for two days and had the opportunity to see some impressive events, such as “pouncer” ops where divers are dropped from a helo to put a fake charge on a practice mine shape; scan eagle deployment; and a sea fox mission to find a practice mine shape to calibrate sonar for the day.

Despite the interesting capabilities that I saw during my short time aboard, the changes in the ship and the crew, since I was aboard during the last IMCMEX, were profound. Much of the civilian and Navy crew had changed out on thier regular rotaion cycles, but the teamwork and integration between the two elements of crew were more evident.

Here to speak today about the afloat forward staging base,  and what he has seen during the year that he has been the commanding officer, is Capt. Jon Rogers. Thanks for the embark opportunity Sir.

-Fleet LT

8008473556_4c887c8a6a_c

With IMCMEX 2013 underway, I hope this blog connects our partner friends, share thoughts and answer any questions about The Proud Lion’s new life as the Navy’s first dedicated afloat forward staging base.

7895208222_6d025c9ccd_bIMCMEX 2012 was a real treat for Ponce’s crew because we met so many people from different cultures and worked with their technologies and equipment. We also exchanged thoughts on the noble mission of mine countermeasures and the importance of removing the indiscriminate mine threat from our planet’s waters. We intend to take this year’s performance to another level.

Beyond just IMCMEX, as I reflect on this past year, Ponce has brought many proud achievements for my personal commanding officer’s log. My fondest memories are observing first hand the incredible talents, resourcefulness and hard work of our salty military and civilian mariner crew that brought a ship destined for decommissioning back to full operational capability. Ponce has awed many visitors – each with a genuine curiosity and some misperceptions of this “thing” called an afloat forward staging base.

I wrote this blog to satisfy that curiosity, clear the misperceptions and share information about Ponce, her crew, her concepts and her mission.

Here are five facts about USS Ponce (Pon-say):

1. Ponce is a USS ship commanded by a U.S. Navy captain and is manned by 55 Sailors and 165 civilian mariners. The average crewmember’s age aboard Ponce is 43 years old.
2. Ponce will celebrate her 42nd birthday July 10, 2013. Thanks to all who have sailed aboard Ponce throughout the years!
3. When Ponce was commissioned in 1971, she had a core crew of 508 personnel. When she was re-designated as an afloat forward staging base on April 16, 2012, her crew totaled 360. Today, she sails with 220 Sailors and civilian mariners.
4. Ponce’s Navy crew consists of individual augmentees with seven-, nine- and 11-month rotations.
5. Ponce has stand-alone Wi-Fi in the ship’s Internet café.

130514-N-JL506-109Intel Specialists Make Waves Aboard Ponce

Ponce takes great pride in recognizing the outstanding accomplishments achieved throughout the year. Intel Specialist Chief Cedrick Thomas, soon to be Chief Warrant Officer Thomas, and his two intelligence specialists, IS2 Billy Kingry and IS3 Joshua Emanis, are the sole reason Ponce earned the prestigious Surface Force Intelligence Excellence Award for 2012.

The award recognizes Pacific and Atlantic Fleet ships that contribute significantly to afloat intelligence readiness. This is a real Navy success story for Thomas, Kingry, Emanis and their families! I hope their families realize how significant their achievements have been on the home front and battlefront!

The successes of Ponce during her first year rest entirely upon the shoulders of her crew. I could not be more proud to be her commanding officer.

-Capt. Jon Rodgers, USS Ponce