Germany and South Africa conclude joint naval exercise in Cape Town

Naval exercises between Germany and South Africa have concluded.

South Africa and Germany yesterday wrapped up the joint naval exercise Good Hope V, which was commanded by South Africans for the first time.

The large-scale exercise between the South African Navy, Air Force and the German Navy takes place off the waters of South Africa on a biennial basis. It is the largest undertaken by the German Task Force Group outside of its NATO obligations.

This year, however, financial considerations and the counter piracy commitments of both navies have meant that Exercise Good Hope V was scaled down when compared to previous years. The aim of Exercise Good Hope V was to conduct exercises that would facilitate the sharing of expertise in general and anti-piracy operations in particular, thus enhancing the SA Navy’s capability in terms of anti-piracy operations within the Mozambican channel.

As Captain Micky Girsa, Commander Combined Maritime Task Group and Commanding Officer of SAS Amatola, explained, “although the global objective of Good Hope exercises between the German and South African forces has always been to conduct joint multi-national exercises focused on conventional warfare, this specific interaction has focused more on the asymmetric threat of anti-piracy.”

“This in itself is a first,” he continued. For Exercise Good Hope V, the German Navy was represented by FSG Lübeck, a frigate returning from Operation Atalanta, the European Union’s Naval Force counter-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin. The Lübeck is equipped with two Lynx Mk 88 helicopters and a Marine boarding team.

The Lübeck was to join SAS Isandlwana, the South African frigate involved with anti-piracy operations in the Mozambique Channel (Operation Copper), with the two vessels sailing south from Durban to Simon’s Town together. The Isandlwana is equipped with a Super Lynx maritime helicopter. However, Lübeck’s arrival in Durban was delayed by two days due to tropical cyclone Irene. The crew of the Lübeck had to endure wind speeds of up to 80 knots (150 km/h) with eight metre swells.

The two frigates eventually left Durban on 9 March and performed numerous sea exercises during their passage to the Simon’s Town naval base in Cape Town. These exercises included a strong emphasis on anti-piracy operations. The requirement for such exercises was brought home when, whilst on patrol off Somalia in January, the Lübeck forced Somali pirates to release an Indian dhow with 15 Indian mariners held as hostages.

Other exercises included boarding operations (from both boats and helicopters), Maritime Domain Awareness, simulated anti-ship missile firings and seamanship and manoeuvring exercises. Time was also spent on gunnery from the ships and helicopters.

Boarding teams consisting of Special Forces and Maritime Reaction Squadron personnel from South Africa as well as Marines from Germany. These units operated as mixed teams and according to both South African and German officers, no problems were experienced and all members worked well together.

However, conventional warfare was not ignored because, as Girsa clarified, “this would be foolish on both parts.”

Once they had reached Cape waters, the Task Group was joined by the South African frigate SAS Amatola and submarine SAS Queen Modjadji 1. Together with an Air Force C-47 TP Dakota maritime patrol aircraft, the Task Group undertook numerous anti-submarine warfare sorties for the benefit of the ships, helicopters and submarine. This included engagement of simulated hostile surface vessels found and identified by the Dakota.

“Amongst all the serials mentioned, one of the highlights was the inclusion of a Dipper [Lynx equipped with a dipping sonar],” Girsa espoused. “This profound ability proved to be advantageous and of great value to the combined force, especially the submarine who was tasked to evade detection and engage the force as best as possible.”

This was ably done by SAS Queen Modjadji 1, commanded by Cdr Neville Howell. Operating under home-town advantage, he was able to surprise the German participants by being extremely evasive.

“The submarine gave us a hard time trying to find them!” exclaimed Capt Eike Wetters, commander of the German Navy Task Group. This, he explained, was because the submarine took advantage of the deep water and varying temperatures at different depths.

Wetters said that it was not enough to perform anti-submarine training on simulators as live exercises were required for optimal experience. “From the German side, we are very happy to have…these anti-submarine warfare exercises. You need live exercises with a real submarine.”

Girsa concluded that as proud as he was of the South African forces that were placed under his operational control for this exercise, “I must state that it has been only a pleasure operating with the German ship Lubeck and all her affiliations. They are indeed professional in every aspect and an asset to the German Navy.”

To which Wetters added, “overall, Exercise Good Hope has been of great value, was planned and professionally led by the South African Navy and successfully conducted by all participants.”

Planning is already proceeding for Exercise Good Hope VI, which will be held in 2014.

“Despite financial pressure and training for several other operational commitments, it has been and still is the German Navy’s (commitment)…to maintain the momentum of this exercise series. I stress that because we have had to scale down the German contingent to a lone frigate here, this exercise…has been a success from our point of view, stressing that it is not always the number that counts, it’s the quality of the training,” concluded Wetters.

The South African armed forces continue to improve their capabilities with such interactions and exercises with foreign armed forces.  Such exercises build experience first hand that are hard to stimulate in a controlled environment.

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