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RIMPAC exercise to use aluminum trimaran, drone

HONOLULU — The evolving nature of warfare will be on display in this year's Rim of the Pacific war games off Hawaii in late June and through July.

The littoral combat ship (LCS) USS Independence, three unmanned aerial vehicles and two hospital ships will take part in the big interoperability exercise involving 23 nations, 48 surface ships, 6 submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel.

NASA's MQ-9 Ikhana, a Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle, will be integrated into the war games as the United States moves toward greater use of unmanned systems.

The Predator, flying out of the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, will provide range clearance and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said Capt. Darryn James, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet.

The Navy said it's the first time unmanned aerial systems will be included in RIMPAC scenarios. A small Switchblade UAV was launched from a submarine as part of limited experimentation during RIMPAC 2012.

The 418-foot, all-aluminum trimaran USS Independence out of San Diego will make its first RIMPAC appearance as a late addition to the U.S. ship lineup.

Two classes of the LCS are being built and represent the backbone of the Navy's near-shore effort, but the ships have been criticized domestically as being too lightly armored and armed.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel cut back the program from 52 to 32 ships and asked for improvements or an alternative design. On Wednesday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said improvements could be made over time to the LCS, a specialized warship that he called a "very transformational concept."

The ship remains very capable for a variety of missions, and Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, said he wants them.

"LCS provides flexible capabilities I need now and in the future and I want as many as I can get in the Pacific Fleet," Harris said. "LCS can go places other U.S. Navy ships cannot, operating hull-to-hull with regional allies and partners, and ready to provide sustained naval presence."

Harris noted that allies and partners got a chance to work with the LCS Freedom during last year's maiden deployment to Southeast Asia.

"So this is a great opportunity to show the second LCS variant (Independence) to the 23 nations participating in RIMPAC 2014, including our own sailors," he said.

The Freedom also participated in RIMPAC in 2010.

Harris added that an increased number of the ships "will become a regular fixture in the Pacific as a tangible demonstration of our commitment to the rebalance."

In addition to USS Independence operating during RIMPAC in Hawaii, the Navy also will also have another LCS, the USS Coronado, taking part.

"From the beginning of the RIMPAC 2014 planning process, we have looked for opportunities to involve our littoral combat ships," said James, the U.S. Pacific fleet spokesman. "Our RIMPAC plan has always included USS Coronado conducting mine warfare and dive training off Southern California. Similar to training we conducted during RIMPAC 2012, Southern California training ranges offer unique shallow water environments that mimic what participating forces may encounter when deployed."

Two military hospital ships also are participating in RIMPAC, the Chinese Peace Ark and USNS Mercy, reflecting a goal of working closer with China at sea and the continuous need to prepare for the next natural disaster in the Pacific.
 

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