The Southern Command area of focus, which includes South America, Central America and the Caribbean is a dynamic region in which the U.S. has vital national interests. Strengthening ties, promoting friendship and mutual understanding, and increasing interoperability among the navies in the Western Hemisphere are paramount in the focus of U.S. Naval Forces, Southern Command. A robust strategy of engagement including multi-national coalition operations and training, high visibility port visits, community-relations activities and counter narco-terrorism operations make up the frame work for the U.S. Navy's focus in the region.
Held each year since 1959, UNITAS is focused on high-tech surface, air, amphibious and under-sea naval training exercises designed to strengthen multinational maritime coalition. Operations, interoperability and hemispheric cooperation among Latin American and worldwide navies. The exercises, designed by expert naval planners from all participating naval forces, are based on realistic world scenarios requiring the participating ships to operate as a combined multi-national task force.
The complexity of exercises conducted during UNITAS provides an excellent opportunity for multinational naval forces to participate in state-of-the-art training evolutions and increases the ability to operate as an effective coalition task force. UNITAS is invaluable in building lasting partnerships and naval coalitions in the Americas.
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Southern Command is the overall commander of the UNITAS exercise and commands various East Coast and West Coast Destroyer Squadrons deployed to command the US ships participating in the exercises.
In addition to a rigorous training schedule, U.S. Navy Sailors, Marines and Coast Guard personnel participate in community relations projects in the ports they visit, donating humanitarian supplies to clinics, painting schools and engaging in demanding construction projects at orphanages and humanitarian aid stations. Medical and hygiene supplies along with books, toys and clothing are donated from the Navy's Project Handclasp program based in San Diego, CA.
Now more than ever, UNITAS plays a critical role in maintaining interoperability and coalition in the American hemisphere and presents an opportunity for U.S. Sailors, Marines and Coast Guard personnel to meet new people, visit interesting ports and experience rich new cultures. UNITAS, Latin for 'unity', also offers the people in COMUSNAVSO's area of responsibility the opportunity to better know the men and women of our Navy, our Marine Corps, our Coast Guard and our country.
This bi-annual exercise hosted by Peru. SIFOREX is anti-submarine warfare focused exercise that emphasizes undersea training in a littoral environment is very rare and provides a significant opportunity for U.S. cruisers, destroyers, and frigates to train in detecting and engaging undersea targets.
The first-ever Silent Force Exercise (SIFOREX) was conducted July 2001 in the South Eastern Pacific Ocean with tremendous success. Hosted by the Peruvian navy, SIFOREX was the first time U.S. ships have operated exclusively with Peruvian submarines exchanging engagement theories and testing tactics and technology.
At the forefront of U.S. engagement activities in the region is counter illicit trafficking operations and training. Together with military forces from a number of countries in the region, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard team is firmly committed to monitoring, detection, search and seizure of illicit narcotics in the region.
Operating daily in the Caribbean, Eastern Pacific and surrounding waters with Sailors and Coast Guard personnel from numerous ships and over a dozen aircraft flying from Forward Operating Locations throughout the region, USNAVSO is having a positive effect on stemming the tide of narcotics flowing into the United States. Working together with the Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF), USNAVSO is coordinating closely with U.S. Federal Agencies in this vital effort to national security.
Good-will ambassadors of the United States, USNAVSO Sailors, Marines and Coast Guard personnel frequently participate in friendship building people-to-people programs throughout the region. Dozens of outreach events are completed throughout the year, such as restoration and maintenance of schools, orphanages, hospitals, and churches; donation to the needy of school books, clothes, food, medical supplies, hygienic items and toys through the Navy's Project Handclasp Program; shipboard tours to the public and community leaders; official receptions and visiting senior dignitaries; and free public performances of the Navy's renowned Atlantic Fleet Showband, "La Banda Unitas" are just a few of the efforts USNAVSO makes in fostering positive relations in the region.
PANAMAX is designed to prepare for a coalition response to threats to the Panama Canal. The exercise involves the detection, monitoring, and interdiction of a suspicious vessel on the high seas by multinational forces, and the handover of the vessel to the Panamanian National Maritime Service as the ships approach the country's territorial waters.
The exercise scenario was designed by expert naval planners from the three nations in an effort to develop combined responses in the defense of hemispheric security. The exercise supports two objectives: first ensure freedom of navigation and, second, increase interoperability among nations with critical interest in the Panama Canal.
The Panama Canal is perhaps the most crucial piece of infrastructure in the flow of goods and commerce in the Western Hemisphere. Hundreds of ships transit the canal every year carrying more than 235 million tons of exports and imports, which sustain the economies of all the nations in the region.
With the threat of hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes and other disasters constantly threatening the area, COMUSNAVSO is at the forefront of responding to crises in the region. Hurricane disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Georges, which devastated Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in September 1998 was provided by U.S. Navy personnel. COMUSNAVSO also provided logistical support in the disaster relief efforts in Venezuela, after floods ravaged the country in December 1999.