Japan: Yokosuka Hosts SMASHEX

Yokosuka Hosts SMASHEX

Sailors from Submarine Group 7 and organizations around the world participated in a Search for Simulated Submarine Casualty Exercise (SMASHEX) at Fleet Activities Yokosuka Aug. 7-8.

SMASHEX is a table top exercise to test procedures and practices required in the very unlikely event of a submarine search, escape and rescue.

Several external groups participated in the exercise including; the International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office (ISMERLO), Commander, Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC), the U.S. Navy Undersea Rescue Command (URC), and Submarine Squadron 11 (SUBRON 11). Several countries including Australia, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the Republic of Korea monitored and actively participated in the exercise via the ISMERLO website.

 “The time-critical nature of a submarine rescue means that large rescue and logistical organizations have to be created on short notice,” said Capt. Dave Osen, commanding officer of Naval Reserve Undersea Warfare Operations detachment alpha. “A request for assistance may need to be sent to several countries so that a variety of rescue assets can be assembled quickly.”

ISMERLO is an international organization focused on humanitarian objectives and dedicated to saving lives at sea. It aims to ensure coordination in the event of a submarine accident that will lead to increased efficiency and thus save more lives.

“Over 40 countries in the world have submarines,” said Osen. “The U.S. Navy tries to maintain friendly relations with most of those countries. Submarine rescue is a way to do that. It’s a way to show kind of a spirit of cooperation with another country that has submarines.”

“One country might not be able to perform the rescue operation by itself and everyone will help if asked,” said Osen. “International submarine rescue exercises provide the opportunity for more open dialog between nations, and get more ideas from more people.”

The exercise puts Sailors in a self training environment and helps them develop watch stander familiarity with submarine rescue procedures and publications. It also gives them the opportunity to familiarize themselves with ISMERLO processes and website.

 “ISMERLO is a good repository of information about details about submarines and submarine rescue systems around the world,” said Osen. “During a disaster, there’s obviously a lot of coordination that needs to happen in a very short period of time and much of that coordination happens on the ISMERLO website.”

The site displays the status of rescue systems and whether they’re in operation or not. Depending on where the disaster is, it has calculators to help determine how to get the particular rescue assets or any other kind of support assets to the disaster, how long it will take to get there and what support assets need to be arranged in order to get the rescue asset to where the disaster happened. There are chat rooms on it for sharing information and status boards about last known locations or areas of uncertainty.

 “Different nations use different assets and techniques, and information sharing is a major part of the exercises,” said Osen.

The exercise helps Sailors understand coordination required for search and rescue operations and evaluate watch team’s capabilities to provide accurate and timely information to outside agencies and nations, including working with the media.

 “International exercises provide the opportunity to work with our submarine rescue partners,” said Osen. No single country can be the answer, everyone needs everyone.”

“Submarine rescue is important to theater security cooperation for the submarine force because the mission is completely unclassified and it is a humanitarian mission,” said Osen. “It’s all about saving lives in a short period of time. In the end, all submariners have a common bond. We care about each other’s lives. It’s hard to envision a scenario where a submarine rescue would only be by one country. There are several countries that have submarine rescue assets and they will all come together to do the rescue.”

Every submarine operating authority is required to do a SMASHEX once a year.

Press Release, August 12, 2013; Image: US Navy