HONOLULU — Rim of the Pacific war games are wrapping up with dozens of ships heading back to Pearl Harbor on Wednesday and Thursday after spending several weeks at sea working on interoperability in an increasingly interconnected Asia-Pacific region.
Twenty-two nations, 49 surface ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel participated in RIMPAC off Hawaii and Southern California.
"During RIMPAC we have benefited tremendously from working with (anti-submarine warfare) forces from Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea, each of whom brings unique skills and perspectives to the table," Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet submarine force at Pearl Harbor, said in a Navy news story.
"The ability to work in coalitions is a very big deterrent to those who would use undersea warfare for aggression," added Japan Maritime Self Defense Force liaison Lt. Cmdr. Tomoyuki Amanuma.
The combined skills honed during RIMPAC also can be used during disasters in the Pacific and stand in contrast to the threat to stability that nations such as North Korea continue to pose.
North Korea is test-firing more missiles and other weapons than in the past, and over the weekend threatened nuclear strikes on the White House and Pentagon.
Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, head of U.S. Pacific Command at Camp H.M. Smith, said Tuesday in a news conference at the Pentagon that "their (North Korea's) desire for nuclear missiles and nuclear capabilities, as we've said over and over again, is highly threatening to the global security environment."
There is "wide debate throughout the intelligence community about how much capability they have, the ability to weaponize it, the ability to put it into warheads."
Denuclearization of North Korea "is an essential part of the way ahead in this part of the world," Locklear said.
China's first-ever participation in RIMPAC garnered accolades for the professionalism of the crews of the four warships that were invited and disdain for the uninvited spy ship that China also sent into the U.S. 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone off Hawaii.
The arrival of the surveillance ship was "a little odd," but it "hasn't created any difficulties in the exercise," Locklear said.
"The good news about this is that it's a recognition, I think, or an acceptance by the Chinese of what we've been saying to them for some time — is that military operations and survey operations in another country's EEZs, where you have your own national security interest, are within international law and are acceptable," Locklear said.
China, by contrast, has sought to keep the U.S. Navy out of its EEZs.