August 1, 2014 2:07 pm

International warships in Halifax ahead of major training exercise

HALIFAX – Several NATO ships are docked at the Halifax waterfront ahead of a major training exercise.

On Thursday, a cohort of international vessels arrived at the Halifax dockyard — the USS Leyte Gulf, USS Anzio and USS Medgar Evers, the German ship FBS Niedersachsen and the Turkish ship TCG Kemalreis.

The ships are part of NATO’s maritime defense group, which is called Standing NATO Maritime Group TWO, or SNMG2.

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SNMG2, along with Canadian warships HMCS Athabaskan, Fredericton, Halifax, Glace Bay and Shawinigan, will take part in warfare training off the Atlantic coast starting next week. Fifteen aircraft will also be involved in the exercise.

The training will include anti-air, anti-submarine, live fire and ship-handling exercises.

“Part of our mission is to maintain these groups at a high state of readiness and the training we’re going to do…is exactly that type of training you have to do to make sure we’re ready to operate together should the alliance need us to do that,” said Rear Admiral Brad Williamson, commander of the SNMG2.

NATO’s other maritime forces are currently operating in the Baltic and Eastern Mediterranean. Williamson said SNMG2′s presence in Halifax is important.

“It’s not just a European alliance, it’s a trans-Atlantic alliance. The opportunity [to work] with the Canadians at this level with this many ships is just something most navies don’t get to do.”

“This is a real opportunity for us to really hone our skills for the Atlantic fleet,” said Captain Craig Skjerpen, the deputy commander of Canadian Fleet Atlantic.

“It really is a great opportunity to foster that relationship with our NATO allies and enhance our abilities so we remain at ready response if our countries call on it.”

Ten ships and about 2,300 personnel will be involved in the training exercise.

Williamson said one of the most critical things that will be done during the drill is improving communications.

“The information exchange systems we have between the ships, exercising how they work, making sure they work in a seamless way where we all agree, we all understand who that contact is, who that ships is, who that aircraft is so from a force perspective, if there was a threat to the force, we would be able to identify quickly and take whatever action is appropriate for that threat,” he said.

The USS Leyte Gulf is the flagship of the SNMG2.

“It’s actually a pretty exciting experience to be able to be on the flagship and have personnel from navies all around the world participating and interacting with them, see how they normally operate,” said Lt. Kira Devers-Jones.

Training starts August 5 and is expected to run until the middle of the month.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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