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Panama Canal Defense Exercise Begins

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2011 – One of the world’s largest multinational military exercises gets under way today to test plans to defend the Panama Canal.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
A sailor attached to a Chilean ship tries to take the ball from a Peruvian sailor at a soccer match during Panamax 2011 at the Vasco Nunez de Balboa Naval Base in Panama City, Aug. 15, 2011. U.S. Southern Command sponsors the annual, multinational training exercise to focus on the security of the Panama Canal. The 12-day exercise, which includes more than 3,500 civil and military personnel from 17 nations, takes place off the coasts of Panama and the United States. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jose Lopez

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Some 3,500 military and civilian personnel from 17 countries are participating in the 12-day exercise dubbed PANAMAX 2011, U.S. Southern Command officials said.

Co-sponsored by Southcom and the Panamanian government, PANAMAX is a joint, combined operation focused on defending one of the world’s most strategic and economically crucial waterways for global trade, officials said.

This year’s exercise focuses on building the interoperability and capacity that would be necessary to defend the canal in the event of a threat, Southcom spokesman Jose Ruiz said.

“We hope the Panama Canal will never have to be defended from a serious threat,” Ruiz said, “but capacity is a very important part of being able to respond to emerging threats.” While the participating countries have an interest in the canal, two-thirds of the canal’s shipping traffic is from the United States, Ruiz noted.

The exercise will develop and test the command and control of forces at sea, involving participants in maritime, air, land, space and cyber operations, he said. Scenarios include open water diving operations, counterdrug interdictions and simulated river operations.

PANAMAX will take place off the coasts of Panama, Texas, Florida and Mississippi through Aug. 26.

The PANAMAX exercise series began in 2003 with the United States, Panama and Chile participating, Ruiz said. Interest in the exercise and in protecting the canal has grown over the years, he added, and participation has expanded to as many as 20 partner countries, he added.

“We worked with our partner nations for many years with the approach that regional security challenges require regional solutions and approaches,” he said.


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