Story by Master Sgt. Theanne Tangen
ZAMBOANGA, Philippines – In a collaborative effort to enhance interagency coordination to strengthen maritime security and maritime domain awareness throughout the Sulu Archipelago, Philippine government agencies and U.S. Special Operations Task Force 511.2 participated in a Joint Maritime Security Training Exercise Nov. 20-24, 2023.
The maritime security-focused exercise facilitated the exchange of tactics, techniques, and procedures among participants from nine organizations, reaffirming the U.S.-Philippine commitment to ensuring the well-being and security of local Filipinos.
“Enhancing our maritime domain defense awareness is actually aligned with the Active Archipelagic Defense Strategy of the Navy,” said Commander Cesar K. Pangan Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines Wester Mindanao Command. “The Armed forces has really stepped up its territorial defense operations capabilities. That is why I think what we have been doing is really good as far as our enhancement is concerned.”
During the training, an exercise-controlled vessel traversed less-travelled routes across the Archipelago, spanning from Zamboanga to Tawi-Tawi. The vessel’s navigation route allowed participants to observe and monitor the simulated vessel of interest, all while conducting interagency coordination to maintain maritime domain awareness.
Simultaneously, another exercise-controlled vessel in the Basilan Strait facilitated day and night opportunities for simulated Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) operations. VBSS operations consist of boarding and searching vessels suspected of piracy or other illicit activities at sea. Perpetrators are then detained and escorted to the appropriate external agency for prosecution if necessary.
“This interagency exercise sends a clear signal to our local population, our local government, that they see a Philippine Government that is coordinated, that they have a mission to prevent illegal activities,” said Commander Joel V. Cabigon, Philippine Naval Special Operation Command. “It translates to the mindset of our population let’s work with our government and that is what I like about this training.”
The exercise further highlighted the evolution of the security relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines, emphasizing the shift from a counter-terrorism focus to a stronger emphasis on territorial defense.
“Our relationship with our Philippine partners here is incredible,” said U.S. Marine Raider Special Operations Task Force 511.2 Commander. “It’s been built and forged over years … blood, sweat, and tears through the fight against counter terrorism here in the Southern Philippines and will continue to work together with whatever challenges our partners face.”
The key stakeholders who participated included: Philippine Navy Naval Forces Western Mindanao, Armed Forces of the Philippines Wester Mindanao Command, Maritime Situational Awareness Center-Western Mindanao, Philippine Naval Special Operation Command, Naval Special Operation Unit 1, Naval Special Operation Unit 6, Philippine National Police Special Action Force, Philippine National Police, and U.S. Special Operations Task Force 511.2.
This article was first published on DVIDS