Exercise Rim Of The Pacific, commonly known as RIMPAC, is the largest multinational naval training event in the world. Based out of Honolulu, Hawaii, RIMPAC brings together a multitude of Navies with far ranging capabilities to train together cooperatively under intricate battle scenarios similar to the ones they may face in the real world.
RIMPAC 2014, held June 28th through August 1st, saw Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Tonga, the United Kingdom, and the United States come together for the massive exercise. A total of 49 ships and 6 submarines, 25,000 service people, and over 200 aircraft took part in the massive war game. Another six countries were also present to observe the exercise so that they could bring the lessons learned from it back to their respective commands.
RIMPAC is executed on the sea, in the air and on the ground, with a wide range of warfare presented, although there is a certainly a focus on maritime and amphibious operations. These training scenarios included everything from anti-submarine warfare to disaster relief operations, and were designed to challenge participants while also pushing the many different nations involved to learn how to maximize their interoperability and to better understand each others unique capabilities.
RIMPAC 2014 would see China participate in the mega-exercise for the first time ever. Invited in 2012 by then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, China sent four ships, including a bunker/resupply ship, a guided missile frigate, a destroyer and a state-of-the-art hospital ship to actively train along many of its regional peer-stare competitors, including Japan.
Japan traditionally has a large presence at RIMPAC and is also currently mired in a nasty territorial dispute with China over the strategically significant Senkaku Islands. There were concerns about China's invite to RIMPAC shortly after it was known that the invitation was delivered, and further controversy has arisen after it was discovered that China sent a spy ship to shadow the same exercise that it was also a part of, leading to calls for the Chinese Navy to be excluded from the next RIMPAC in 2016.
RIMPAC is also known for debuting and operationally testing new technologies and concepts in a combined arms manner. The stars of RIMPAC 2014 included the Marine's experimental Ultra Heavy-Lift Amphibious Connector, AH-64E Apache attack helicopters operating in force off of a US Navy Amphibious Assault Ship, as well as the sci-fi like Legged Squad Support System robotic mule which assisted Marines on patrol.
The US Navy's embattled Littoral Combat Ship also took part in the exercises off of Oahu after taking a hiatus in 2012 after debuting at RIMPAC for the first time in 2010. USS Independence, otherwise known as LCS-2, the trimaran version of the LCS concept, was sent to participate for the first time at RIMPAC. Sending the Independence was a late decision for the US Navy as the ship was originally scheduled to remain in San Diego through the summer.
RIMPAC has also expanded outside of its Central Pacific operating location to the southern coast of California, where parallel RIMPAC exercises are now held that are focused exclusively on the critical mine warfare and underwater diving/demolition mission. Eight other nations would actively participate in these training missions that took place around San Diego and the Channel Islands, with mine sweeping, mine laying, and unmanned underwater vehicle capabilities being tested and participating ships' crews mine hunting skills being honed.
Along with the US Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Army, the USAF also got into the RIMPAC action with Hawaii's 199th FW and their F-22A Raptors bringing 5th generation fighter capability to the exercise. USAF E-3 Sentry, KC-135R Stratotanker, and F-16C Block 30s from 301st FW out of Fort Worth, Texas were also players in the war games. Other USAF assets included B-52Hs, F-15Es, C-21As, C-17s and MQ-9 Predators. These flew alongside well over a hundred USMC and USN aircraft, including helicopters, fighter, and ISR (Information, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) aircraft. Even the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company's (ATAC) forward deployed Hawker Hunters were used to simulate anti-ship cruise missile attacks on participating vessels.
RIMPAC usually includes live-fire events, and the sinking of at least one large ship, known as a Sinking Exercise, or SINKEX. This year it was USS Tuscaloosa, a Newport-class tank landing ship that was originally commissioned in 1970, and the USS Ogden, an Austin-class amphibious transport dock that was originally commissioned in 1965, that would meet their demise via friendly torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, bombs, and gunfire.
Getting the very most out of international mega-training events like RIMPAC has become more important than ever as military budgets have come under great pressure in the last six years. Smaller navies mean there is a large need to get the most out of the fewer assets that a nation has, as well as preparing to operate within coalitions that are comprised of highly disparate capabilities and cultures.
RIMPAC provides a unique and accelerated breeding ground for improving not just a participating nation's own capabilities but a potential coalition's capabilities as a whole, and much of this is as cultural and interpersonal based as it is weapons based. Knowing not just what your potential allies have to fight with, but how they fight with it is extremely important. At RIMPAC, and at other multinational training events, lessons can be learned and any associated inter-operational problems can be solved before a real shot is ever fired in anger. This equates to money and time well spent and possibly lives saved, and that is precisely why RIMPAC continues to grow and evolve as the world's premier international naval warfare training opportunity.
All pictures via the DoD, for more great pictures from RIMPAC 2014 click here!
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer that maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com