U.S. and African naval Forces gather for closing ceremony of exercise


The conclusion of Cutlass Express brought several firsts to include India’s participation in the exercise and the implementation of the Indian Ocean Regional Information Sharing (IORIS) web-based platform through the European Union Critical Maritime Routes Indian Ocean (CRIMARIO) project.

IORIS enables member countries to set up a collaborative working environment to improve the understanding of the maritime domain and coordinate operations when incidents at sea occur. The platform marks an approach to address maritime security challenges such as piracy, drugs and arms trafficking, illegal fishing and environmental damages.

“The key thing during this exercise was to work with respective countries’ maritime operations centers to be able to better develop a common operating picture at sea with the goal of countering illicit trafficking of things like narcotics, trafficking in people and other goods transferred by sea,” said Capt. Matthew J. Lehman, commander, Task Force 65 and exercise commanding officer.

IORIS along with SEA Vision, a web-based platform serving a similar purpose, were used as the primary communication tools between land-based assets and participating ships. Vessels that participated in the exercise included the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93), French patrol ship Le Malin (P 701), Mauritius Kora-class Corvette CGS Barracuda (CG 31), Indian Talwar-class frigate INS Trikand (F 51) and Malagasy patrol vessel RC Trozona.

The nine-day exercise, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and conducted by U.S. Naval Forces Africa, kicked off in Djibouti Jan. 28 and included an in-port preparatory phase, four days of pier side and underway visit, board, search and seizure drills, as well as various workshops in Mozambique and Djibouti.

“The training has proven valuable and we are seeing results in the Indian Ocean with counter-piracy and a reduction in illegal fishing,” said Cmdr. Kirk Schneringer, assistant director of Cutlass Express. “Working together with our partner nations is helping to form personal relationships that will extend well beyond this exercise.”

Cmdr. Kunal Bharadwaj, commanding officer of the Mauritius Kora-class Corvette CGS Barracuda, said that using foreign ships as a proving ground for boarding teams has more to do with camaraderie than providing unique drill conditions.

“Cutlass Express is a good platform because it meets multiple requirements,” said Bharadwaj. “Training is, of course, the most important requirement, but it also builds up the camaraderie between the nations that are present in this area. This exercise provides a good platform for interacting with other countries in this region, and this will pave the way for what we’d like to achieve in the future where we’re carrying out operations in conjunction with other countries in the area.”

The participating nations successfully tested their ability to identify and properly address illicit trafficking, piracy, illegal fishing, as well as search and rescue situations. Maritime operations centers gave participating nations the ability to track and report procedures of simulated suspect vessels.

Participating nations in Cutlass Express 2019 included Canada, Comoros, Djibouti, France, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Portugal, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, the Netherlands and the United States.

Cutlass Express is one of three Africa-focused regional, “Express” series exercises sponsored by U.S. AFRICOM and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet. The exercise falls under Africa Partnership Station, the umbrella program for the Express series of exercises and other capacity-building initiatives throughout Africa.

U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, headquartered in Naples, Italy, oversees joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, to enable enduring relationships and increase vigilance and resilience in Europe and Africa.