Hawaii bracing for largest-ever RIMPAC exercise
By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: June 23, 2012
Pearl Harbor, and by extension Waikiki, are about to become very busy places.
Military ships, planes and personnel from 22 nations are converging on Hawaii for the largest-ever Rim of the Pacific naval exercises and war games in and around the islands.
This year's RIMPAC exercise, the 23rd in a series that began in 1971, is scheduled for Wednesday to Aug. 7.
The 22 participating nations number eight more than two years ago, when the last of the biennial exercises was held in Hawaii, a sign of the growing attention being paid to events in Asia and the Pacific.
The list of firepower and people is impressive: Some 42 surface ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are taking part in RIMPAC.
Two big-deck U.S. Navy shipsthe aircraft carrier Nimitz and amphibious assault ship Essexwill be the centerpieces of the war games as they launch aircraft and fend off mock attacks by submarines and simulated missiles.
Marines will launch amphibious assault vehicles from the Essex and hit the beach with support from helicopters.
In Washington state last week, the oiler Henry J. Kaiser loaded up 900,000 gallons of a 50/50 blend of traditional petroleum-based fuel and biofuel made from waste cooking oil and algae oil for a demonstration of the "Great Green Fleet" during RIMPAC.
The Pearl Harbor destroyers Chung-Hoon and Chafee will be among ships testing the biofuel.
Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia, Singapore and the United States are among the nations in this year's RIMPAC.
Military personnel from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Republic of Philippines, Thailand, Tonga and the United Kingdom also will be taking part.
Russia, India, Mexico, the Philippines, New Zealand, Norway and Tonga are participating for the first time, said Cmdr. Charlie Brown, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 3rd Fleet.
"We had 14 countries participate in 2010. We've got 22 this year, so I think that's an indication of the interest that countries have in participating in RIMPAC and the value they see in this kind of unique training opportunity," Brown said.
China was not invited to participate or observe, Brown said. Certain prohibitions are in place regarding China's access to U.S. military operations, but Adm. William Fallon invited the People's Liberation Army to observe the exercise "Valiant Shield" in 2006 when Fallon was head of U.S. Pacific Command.
Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies in Honolulu, said the exercise's increase in size is an acknowledgement of the growing importance of maritime cooperation.
"If you think about what the headlines have been for the last couple of years, they've really been discussing the (fact) that we're facing an increasingly fraught security environment with a great deal of uncertainty," Glosserman said.
A recent example involved a standoff between fishing boats from China and the Philippines at Scarborough Shoal, a disputed area in the South China Sea claimed by those two countries and at least four others.
"I think everyone recognizes that (this maritime security environment) is where either we learn to live and work together, because we do have considerable shared interests, or this is where we get in each other's way and potentially start to stare each other down," Glosserman said.
Russia's presence "speaks to a Russian desire to be more deeply engaged in this region," Glosserman said.
"Everyone knows and I think it's very clear that (President Vladimir Putin) would like to be a big player," he said.
India, too, is trying to establish itself as a more visible and more prominent regional player.
"One of the key elements I think of the rebalancing (toward Asia and the Pacific)," Glosserman said, "is the notion of the increasing importance of the Indian Oceanwe're starting to look at the Indian and Pacific oceans as a single theater, if you will, and that clearly underscores the importance of India."
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