Bringing the National Maritime Strategy to life is just one facet of Phoenix Express 2008, the Navy's third annual two-week exercise that demonstrated a multinational commitment to regional stability and maritime security in the Mediterranean.
Participants from 11 nations came together, April 8-22, to improve their ability to perform maritime interdiction operations (MIO) individually and in a combined effort. Countries that participated in the MIO events, included: Algeria, Greece, Malta, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States. France and Italy also participated in PE 08.
PE 08 included two phases of training: in port and at sea. In addition to MIO, participants conducted search and rescue operations, small boat handling, division tactics, medical training and ashore maritime coordination.
In the U.S. Navy, maritime interdiction operations are handled by what is called each ship's visit, board, search and seizure teams. VBSS teams help to ensure mission readiness while focusing on the importance of maritime security operations. Maritime interdiction operations set the conditions for security and stability and complement the counterterrorism and security efforts on the high seas and in nations' littoral waters.
PE 08's combined maritime forces conducted workshops in helicopter operations and safety, damage control and firefighting, navigation and deck seamanship. There was also an enlisted leadership round table and a welcome reception with 200 guests aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau (LHA 4) on the exercise's opening day.
Underway events focused on maritime domain awareness and the shipboard Automatic Identification System that included interaction between forces afloat and a maritime operations center ashore.
While in port in Souda Bay, Crete, teams worked together in the newly established NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Center (NMIOTC), which provided a realistic environment with multiple threat scenarios for training in small arms, fast rope insertion and tactical sweeps.
Two ships from the Nassau Expeditionary Strike Group, Nassau and the amphibious transport dock ship USS Nashville (LPD 13), along with the frigate USS John L. Hall (FFG 32) and the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Patuxent (T-AO 201), represented the U.S.
Eight other ships also participated in the exercise, including the Algerian training ship La Soummam (937); the French salvage ship FS Acheron (A 613); the Greek auxiliary ship Evros (A 415); the Greek frigate HS Spetsai (F 453); the Moroccan frigate Mohammed V (611); the Portuguese frigate NRP Corte Real (F 332); the Spanish corvette SPS Infanta Elena (P 76); and the Turkish frigate TCG Gelibolu (F 493).
Aboard Nassau April 24, Capt. Bob Lineberry, officer in charge of PE 08 and Nassau ESG commander, talked about some of the highlights of the exercise.
"NATO stood up the training center [NMIOTC], and it was accredited and certified on April 2. We were their first customer. There were 116 personnel on 10 teams, and over a four-day period, they went through their training regimen to allow the teams to come together to train and go out and practice that training at sea.
"We started with in-port training, which was the basis of getting the teams together and forming a good understanding of what the 6th Fleet wanted us to do as far as training objectives.
"We took the plan, finalized it, matured it, and knew that we were going to be able to meet those objectives. Everyone understood what the plan was. For the first five or six days in Souda Bay, we briefed the plan to make sure that everyone understood it, that we could execute it, and then we all got underway," Lineberry said.
The training agenda provided maritime forces with numerous opportunities to operate together and develop productive relationships through diverse and challenging operational scenarios, according to Lineberry.
“This year — this is new for Phoenix Express 2008 — it was a scenario-driven exercise. In the past, they have not had so much scripted out. There were intelligence injects from the exercise control group that drove some of the decision-making on how, when and where we were going to be making the boardings.
“We had four target ships in the operating area and our surface action group commanders had to decide, based upon intelligence, which teams they were going to send to which ships. It made for a much better, more realistic exercise. Phoenix Express continues to grow in size as well as complexity,” Lineberry said.
Phoenix Express helps create an environment that promotes safety, interoperability, and by demonstrating the capabilities of a multinational maritime force, it serves as a warning to maritime criminals, extremists and terrorists.
Because training and working together are so vital to the success of the exercise to prepare for real-world operations, careful attention is paid to each participant’s needs in planning the exercise events, Lineberry said.
“During the exercise development process and the various planning conferences, every country sends representatives. There are four times we get together prior to an exercise. During each one of those planning sessions, we will lay out everyone’s training objectives. We will match up those countries’ training objectives to the sponsoring commander’s overall training objectives — Sixth Fleet sponsored the exercise this time.
“Everyone can see what the training will be, and we get more than just maritime interdiction operations, sometimes called maritime intercept operations. We get low slow flyer exercises and we get fast-boat attack exercises,” Lineberry said.
The simulated target vessels were often Nashville and Patuxent. Landing craft utilities from Nassau were also used as target craft in several scenarios. Nassau as the central hub for the exercise, hosted many liaison naval officers from the other participating countries.
Two helicopters from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28 provided transportation from Nassau’s flight deck to the target vessels, often taking foreign teams who had never flown in an American helicopter.
“We all share the maritime environment and to communicate and have a better understanding and to be able to build that friendship and that relationship while we are at sea will add to the security and the stability of the region.
“We achieved that but the focus of most of the training was primarily the MIO boardings, but the much greater purpose was being able to build the energy, build the excitement and get the leadership involved with going out and operating among 11 nations with 12 ships and numerous boarding teams.
“We did it successfully and we did it safely to achieve the [6th Fleet] commander’s objectives. That’s what it was all about and we had a blast. It was a lot of fun,” Lineberry said.
All the nations participating are committed to enhancing maritime capabilities that will help future joint peacekeeping efforts, humanitarian operations and to stop destabilizing elements and maritime criminals in the Mediterranean Sea. Although, acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia and the Horn of Africa make headlines almost daily, the Mediterranean is a security concern as well.
“There are a lot of illegal activities in the Med. That is a concern for the Sixth Fleet commander as well as the other countries. That would be a purpose for MIO boardings.
“[Personnel conducting] MIO boardings could be looking for terrorists or terrorist-type equipment or activities. They could also be looking for illegal activities such as smuggling, drugs, weapons or human trafficking. Those are the issues they deal with in the Mediterranean.
“[The purpose of] Phoenix Express is to help countries keep the security in the region, keep the stability in the region, and be able to share information. Each country brings its own capabilities — many countries come to learn — but many also come to teach.
“Every country had some sort of training evolution whether it was on the beach or flight deck safety. When we went to sea, we had some countries lead the low slow flyer exercise. Some countries led a tow exercise where one ship tows another ship,” Lineberry said.
The new National Maritime Strategy has at its foundation cooperation with friends and allies to promote global peace and prosperity. PE 08 achieved its training objectives but also promoted friendship, mutual understanding and cooperation.
Lineberry said that the nations and crews not only learned from the experience but also enjoyed the port visits and camaraderie with multinational forces.
“When we all got together the first week, at the NMIOTC and on the ships, we came together as participants, and we left as friends,” Lineberry said.
In PE 08, more than 3,100 multinational maritime forces came together to build regional stability and maritime security in the Mediterranean. When not performing boarding exercises, the multinational teams also found other ways to improve their collective skills, including friendly competitions and small arms firing.
“We were excited to have the opportunity to work with sailors and marines from Morocco or Algeria or Spain or Portugal — or many of the other countries that participated. Our young kids got a kick out of the opportunity to share stories. They have a lot of great memories, and they made a lot of great friends.
“We have an exchange program. Several Sailors and Marines went from one ship and spent time on another country’s ship. Here on the Nassau, we had all of our liaison officers onboard to help us execute the plan and communicate the plan to the various countries. This has become the hub, the international hub, for the exercise,” Lineberry said.
Participants used Battle Force Email, which was set up on each ship to provide communications supporting the execution of events around the clock, from air operations exercises to refueling-at-sea evolutions.
“It is not new technology. It is something we have used in the past. We need to find one that is more user-friendly. One of our challenges with the Battle Force Email was having the system be user-friendly to people who are not familiar with the system and having the system be reliable to the various users.
“One of our lessons learned is that we need a system that is more flexible with a higher rate of information exchange to make it more reliable,” Lineberry said.
“Every ship, every country, every team, brings its own unique capability, and it varies from country to country. We had to find the best way to communicate for each country, and that was the primary method we used to communicate the plan and to execute the maritime interdiction boardings,” Lineberry said.
The at-sea phase of PE 08 came to a close April 19 in Augusta Bay, Sicily, where the participating countries met to discuss the outcome of the exercise. Data from the exercise will be analyzed and used to plan future exercises.
“The day before yesterday, we brought in six flag officers from the other countries to participate in the After Action Review. That was a lessons learned session.
“The Sixth Fleet commander will take those lessons learned, and the planners will send those out to the different countries. They are sending out invitations already for Phoenix Express 2009. Those lessons learned and those commander’s issues will get turned back into making Phoenix Express 2009 a better exercise and to meet the needs of our multinational partners,” Lineberry explained.
The job still isn’t done for the Nassau ESG, according to Lineberry.
“We are going to catch up with the rest of our [strike group] ships, and we are heading over to the Arabian Gulf, to the Fifth Fleet. We are going to spend a couple of months working for the Fifth Fleet commander and the CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) commander carrying out maritime security operations and a variety of missions …”
Nassau Strike Group
To the Beach, and Beyond!
The Nassau Expeditionary Strike Group (NASSG), with its more than 2,800 Sailors and Marines deployed Feb. 19-20 for a regularly scheduled deployment to the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operation in support of maritime security operations.
Commanded by Capt. Robert G. Lineberry, the NASSG is made up of the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau (LHA 4); the am-phibious transport dock ship USS Nashville (LPD 13); the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48); the guided-missile destroyers USS Ross (DDG 71) and USS Bulkeley (DDG 84); the attack submarine USS Albany (SSN 753); all homeported at Norfolk; and the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58), homeported at Mayport, Fla.
Philippine Sea departed from Mayport Feb. 19, with Ashland deploying from Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va., on the same day. The remaining ships departed Naval Station Norfolk Feb. 20.
The strike group, with 2,800 Sailors, returned to Norfolk, Va., July 11, 2008.
The mission of the NASSG consists of five primary components:
• Expeditionary Power Projection
• Maritime Security Operations
– Anti-Air Warfare
– Anti-Submarine Warfare
– Anti-Surface Warfare
– Mine Warfare
• Amphibious Operations
• Crisis Response
• Humanitarian Assistance
– Disaster Relief
– Non-Combatant Evacuations Operations
– Enabling Operations
NASSG Unit Composition: Commander, Amphibious Squadron Six (CPR-6) USS Nassau (LHA 4) – Flagship USS Nashville (LPD 13) USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) USS Ashland (LSD 48) USS Bulkeley (DDG 84) USS Ross (DDG 71) USS Albany (SSN 753) Marine Expeditionary Unit 24 (24 MEU)
– Ground Combat Element
– Air Combat Element Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 46 (HSL-46) Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28 (HSC-28) Tactical Air Squadron 21 (TACRON 21) Fleet Surgical Team Two (FST-2) Naval Beach Group Two (NBG 2) Det. C
– Assault Craft Unit 4 (ACU 4) (LCAC)
– Assault Craft Unit (ACU 2) (LCU)
– Beach Master Unit (BMU 2) (LMU) Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) Det. Strike Group Oceanography Team (SGOT)