The fourth week of March saw the first ever joint European Union (EU)/United States (US) naval exercise in the form of patrols and “exercising high seas freedom of navigation” EU Naval Force Operation Atalanta said.
The exercise on 23 and 24 March in the Arabian Sea came in the wake of a decision during the December EU/US high level consultations on the Indo-Pacific. The three warships that took part in the landmark exercise were the USS Paul Hamilton (DDG60), EU NavFor’s Spanish ship Reina Sofia (F84) and the Italian ship Carlo Bergamini (F590).
Professional exchanges on boarding procedures, navigation and training designed to improve inter-operability and integration were key to the two-day exercise.
The NAVEX forms part of the shared commitment of the EU and US to practical maritime co-operation and support a free and open Indo-Pacific, in line with documents such as the EU Strategic Compass, the EU Strategy for Co-operation in the Indo-Pacific and the US Indo-Pacific Strategy.
“The EU and the US reaffirm their commitment to further pursue co-ordination and complementary work for regional maritime security to support freedom of navigation and internationally lawful uses of the sea in the Indo-Pacific,” according to an Atalanta statement.
The exercise follows concerns about threats to Europe’s maritime infrastructure, notably following the September attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines, suspected to have been carried out by Russia.
The EU outlined plans for an annual naval exercise from 2024 to co-ordinate member countries’ national efforts to protect gas pipelines, undersea data cables, offshore wind farms and other critical maritime infrastructure.
The EU plan sets out to increase co-operation between the EU and NATO, expand coastal patrols and improve efforts to identify threats early – such as using EU satellite programmes to detect unidentified vessels, Reuters reported. The EU will further produce a risk assessment, disaster recovery and regional surveillance plans, according to the strategy.