Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti - The Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) joined Djiboutian and Spanish forces to conduct the combined joint interoperability exercise Bull Shark near Arta Range Dec. 3, 2022. Bull Shark is a biannual crisis response and personnel recovery exercise designed to test communication and interoperability between like-minded partners.
The exercise simulated multiple personnel recovery scenarios in water and on land under simulated fire from a hostile force. The scenario allowed for coordination of land, sea, and air components from multiple U.S. military branches, the Spanish navy and Djiboutian coast guard.
“During the land component, the Spanish launched their Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance assets and realized that there were hostile elements nearby their crew members, which prompted the dispatch of their [naval forces] to engage the opposing force (OPFOR), and treat the crew members medically while under pressure from the OPFOR element,” said U.S. Army Capt. Donald Arndt, CJTF-HOA exercise planner. “Once they got to the exfil from the beach, they conducted a hoist of their own with their UH-1N helicopter.”
The Djiboutian coast guard coordinated efforts with the U.S. Navy Maritime Expeditionary Security Force to simulate personnel recovery operations at sea.
"The Djiboutian coast guard has a search and rescue department that operates in our territorial waters at all times," said Djiboutian coast guard Lt. Youssouf Issa Iyeh, head of the search and rescue department. "Since friendly forces such as the U.S. and the European Union are present in our waters, it is very important to unite and carry out missions such as search and rescue.”
During the response operation, the recovered personnel sustained simulated injuries that required the dispatch of U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys.
“[Spanish naval forces] confirmed that their patients required a higher level of care than [could be provided] aboard the Santa Maria, so the dispatched MV-22’s conducted a hoist in the water which is a very dangerous operation,” said Arndt. “They returned the casualties to [Camp Lemonnier] and the Pararescuemen actually practiced transporting the casualties from the flight line over to the Expeditionary Medical Facility.”
The exercise required complex multinational logistical coordination to ensure the mission objectives were accomplished while maneuvering safely. Training together as a combined joint force often is vital for understanding how each element operates.
“We always train as much as we can with partners and NATO forces,” said Spanish navy Cmdr. Alfonso Moramo, commanding officer of the Santa Maria. “Whenever we are operating, we are almost always looking for interoperability with partner forces.”
Every iteration of Bull Shark aims to increase in complexity and incorporate more opportunities for partner nations to learn from one another. Practicing these scenarios also allows all participants to work through communication challenges before a real world event.
“For a mission like personal recovery, when lives are at stake, we all work together to save human lives,” said Arndt. “Working with the Djiboutian coast guard and our Spanish partners ensures that if this were to happen in the real world, and sadly it does more frequently than we like, that we are able to communicate and coordinate and save human lives together.”