The U.S. Navy on Jan. 31 kicked off the largest ever unmanned international maritime exercise in the Middle East region.
The Navy said Monday that an 18-day training event commenced during a ceremony at U.S. 5th Fleet’s headquarters in Bahrain.
Led by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, 60 partner nations and international organizations are participating in the 2022 edition of the International Maritime Exercise (IMX), it said. Training in this year’s IMX will span across the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea, and North Indian Ocean.
According to the command, more than 80 unmanned systems will be tested by 10 of the participating partner nations, marking the largest group of unmanned platforms used in a naval exercise to date.
“This level of representation demonstrates shared resolve in preserving the rules-based international order,” Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, said in a statement.
He added that the event provides a unique opportunity to increase the command’s capabilities and interoperability while strengthening maritime ties.
The Navy said the IMX will allow participants to test unmanned systems and artificial intelligence technologies in various training scenarios, and “ultimately apply the lessons learned to future real-world operations.”
Training will also focus on enhancing capabilities in command and control, sea control, maritime security operations, and mine countermeasures, it said.
It marks the first time artificial intelligence technologies have been tested at the International Maritime Exercise since it was established in 2012.
“We are really excited about IMX because the size and scale of it will really allow us to get a lot of experience,” Cmdr. Tom McAndrew, exercise planner for unmanned systems and AI integration, told reporters, according to Fedscoop.
McAndrew also noted that search and rescue will be a focus during training, according to Defense News. He told reporters that artificial intelligence and unmanned systems may aid in search and rescue operations in the future.
International naval forces participating in the exercise are split into four geographical combined task forces led by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kenya, and Oman. A fifth task force group, named Task Force X, was established to focus on unmanned systems and artificial intelligence integration, the Navy said.
Cmdr. Kenyatta Martin, the lead exercise planner for International Maritime Exercise, said planning began in December 2020 for this year’s training event.
“Once we did incorporate the unmanned systems [as] part of the exercise, it was quite a bit of interest from our partner nations to participate—and not just on a level of curiosity [and observing only], but a level of integration and participation with the knowledge of this unmanned and AI being a part of the coalition force,” he said, according to Defense News.
The training exercise is scheduled to be completed on Feb. 17.