By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Fred Gray IV
Military service members and government representatives from 15 countries are working together during exercise Cutlass Express 2021 to improve maritime domain awareness (MDA), to better perceive and combat maritime threats, and improve operational efficiency off the coastal waters of East Africa.
Throughout Cutlass Express, participating nations will utilize a web-based situational awareness tool called SeaVision that enables the exercise participants assigned to the joint operations center to view and share a broad array of maritime information that improves maritime operations.
“SeaVision is used by our partners and the U.S. to share information back and forth in an unclassified manner,” said David Rollo, program manager for MDA at U.S. Naval Forces Africa. “It’s a way for us to operate and exercise together and have a common operational picture based on the web.”
Originally developed in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Transportation for U.S. Naval Forces Africa, SeaVision was developed in response to a need for enhanced MDA, and has now evolved into a globally used multinational information sharing tool.
“It’s important that we share data with our allies and partners, because other than this (SeaVision), there is no other multinational common operating picture out there,” Rollo said. “Not one agency can build maritime security and maritime domain awareness, it takes everybody working together.”
The Djibouti Code of Conduct, established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), brought together 21 countries for their mutual concern for the repression of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.
“This region (Eastern Africa) faces a lot of maritime security challenges and the countries don’t have enough resources to police their own waters, in other words, there are inadequacies as far as MDA is concerned,” said sixth year Cutlass Express veteran, Kiruja Micheni, and project manager for the Djibouti Code of Conduct with the International Maritime Organization (IMO). “SeaVision, with the support of the U.S., enables countries to be able to have a good understanding of what is happening at sea.”
Since the inception of the Djibouti Code of Conduct, it was revised in 2017 to include the Jeddah amendment, which expanded the code to address other maritime security issues such as illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, terrorism, and human trafficking.
“The code of conduct has four pillars, and one of the pillars is sharing information,” Micheni said. “SeaVision is one of the tools able to support regional countries and is one of the key features for national and regional operation centers that is used in sharing information on maritime security.”
During exercise Cutlass Express 2021, participants will conduct several maritime security exchanges to include vessel queries and ship boardings, airborne maritime patrol operations, and search and rescue drills. Additionally, Cutlass Express participants will work together in maritime operations center watch teams to track and report simulated suspect vessels and illicit activity.
“Cutlass Express allows us to practice scenarios and work together in preparation for real world situations,” Rollo said. “It’s a beginning to the end process that allows participants to improve interoperability and gain valuable experiences working with neighboring countries for when the U.S. isn’t here.”
SeaVision is used by military and non-military organizations. Countries like Kenya have local government agencies using SeaVision to build a broader view for MDA.
“East African countries, to include military and law enforcement agencies, all use and work with SeaVision,” Rollo said. “It’s important to share maritime information so you can build the maritime security picture and get full maritime domain awareness.”
“SeaVision has been very beneficial for me because it allows me to analyze the different vessels that come into Mombasa and gives me all the data I need to work and submit to the relevant authorities,” said Elima Limo, police officer with the Kenyan Port Authority and exercise Cutlass Express participant. “It gives us a clear picture of what is going on in the sea.”
Through the use of SeaVision and exercise Cutlass Express 2021, it provides an opportunity to work side-by-side with partner nations to better synchronize and rehearse for potential real-world scenarios.
Limo and other participants have enjoyed learning and operating with fellow colleagues from partner nations during Cutlass Express. “We love knowledge that helps us do our daily activities that strengthens our MDA,” she said.
“One success I would like to highlight is the network that Cutlass Express has supported by bringing together practitioners and different countries to be able to share experiences and enable partner nations to understand best practices,” Micheni said. “By linking together the different centers in different countries in the region, countries are more capable to deal with maritime security threats.”
Exercise Cutlass Express 2021, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command and conducted by U.S. Naval Forces Africa, is designed to improve regional cooperation among participating nations in order to increase maritime safety and security in the East Africa coastal regions.
U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.