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Good morning, everyone! It is wonderful to be with you here in Cartagena at the Naval Museum for the opening ceremony of this year’s UNITAS maritime exercise.
I would like to thank Commander of the Colombian Navy Admiral Cubides as well as the entire nation of Colombia for hosting the 64th iteration of UNITAS, bringing together 20 nations from across the globe to train in joint maritime operations.
I would also like to congratulate the Colombian Navy as they commemorate their 200th Anniversary later this month. 200 years of service is an incredible milestone to reach, and I speak for the entire United States Department of the Navy when I say “Felicidades!”
We look forward to our continued partnership with you in the years to come.
When I assumed office as the 78th Secretary of the Navy in August of 2021, I made enhancing strategic partnerships one of our Department’s top enduring priorities.
And after attending last year’s UNITAS exercise in Brazil—my first as Secretary of the Navy—I am convinced that there is no better example of how we are strengthening our bonds with our partners and allies in the Western Hemisphere than this exercise series.
As the world’s longest-running multinational maritime exercise series, UNITAS provides us all with the opportunity to increase our proficiency across a broad range of naval and shore-based operations, and to improve our ability to operate together safely and effectively as we address the common challenges we face in the maritime domain.
Above all, UNITAS builds rapport and trust amongst our Sailors and Marines.
Trust, proficiency, and interoperability are core tenets of our partnerships as we work together to advance our common interests in the Western Hemisphere, maintaining the stability and security necessary for economic prosperity.
Economic security is national security, and we must continue to work together to counter the common maritime challenges that threaten our way of life, and that run contrary to the rules-based international order.
Two major challenges that come to mind are narcotics trafficking and Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing. Both of these activities harm our economies and our people.
The United States of America is committed to working with all of you to address these issues that plague our region and undermine our collective security.
As we look for new ways to counter both narcotics smuggling and Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing, this year’s iteration of UNITAS will include several opportunities to experiment with unmanned systems.
Unmanned systems—above, at, and below the sea—as well as artificial intelligence tools will help us improve our collective maritime domain awareness.
The US Navy’s Fourth Fleet, led by Rear Admiral James Aiken, is leading our Navy’s efforts to integrate unmanned platforms into our forces throughout the Western Hemisphere through our Unmanned Integration Campaign.
We look forward to working with all of you as a part of this effort, and I am excited to see how this year’s exercise will inform our future approaches to leveraging unmanned technologies and platforms.
In closing, the partnerships—the friendships—we share with every nation participating in UNITAS are critical to the success of United States Navy and Marine Corps in every mission that we undertake.
We cannot realize the peace and security that we desire in the Western Hemisphere without contributions from each and every one of the countries that are assembled here in Colombia for this year’s exercise.
It is my hope that our Navy and Marine Corps team’s presence here reassures all of you that the United States of America is committed to being a faithful and trustworthy partner as we work towards maintaining peace and stability throughout the region.
Thank you all again for your participation in UNITAS 64, and thank you again to the Republic of Colombia for its warm reception.
May God bless our nations, all of our Sailors and Marines, and their families.
Carlos Del Toro
12 July 2023
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