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Navy’s multinational Rim of the Pacific drills are a go for this summer, but will be at-sea only

Amphibious-assault craft approach Pyramid Rock Beach at Marine Corps Base Hawaii during a Rim of the Pacific drill on July 29, 2018.

WYATT OLSON/STARS AND STRIPES

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 30, 2020

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The world’s largest international naval exercise will go ahead in waters off Hawaii this summer, but participating forces will stay at sea during the drills due to concerns about the coronavirus, the Navy announced Wednesday.

The Rim of the Pacific exercise will run from Aug. 27-31, according to a Navy statement on the U.S. Pacific Fleet website.

“This biennial maritime exercise will be an at-sea-only event in light of COVID-19 concerns,” the statement said, referring to the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Conducting the exercise only at sea is intended to ensure the safety of participating forces by minimizing shore-based contingents, according to the statement.

“Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet crafted the modified RIMPAC plan as a way to conduct a meaningful exercise with maximum training value and minimum risk to the force, allies and partners, and the people of Hawaii,” the statement said.

This year’s exercise will include multinational anti-submarine warfare, maritime intercept operations and live-fire training. Planners will remain flexible as Navy leaders monitor and assess evolving circumstances.

To limit the spread of the coronavirus there are no scheduled social events ashore, the statement said.

“Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam will be accessible for logistics support, with a minimal footprint of staff ashore for command and control, logistics, and other support functions,” the officials said in the statement.

The Navy did not announce participating nations.

In 2018, U.S. forces were joined in the drills by friends and allies from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, South Korea, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, Tonga, Vietnam and the United Kingdom.

The nations brought together a fleet of 46 warships and five submarines and troops from 18 national land forces, along with more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel.

China was invited to the exercise in 2014 and 2016, but it wasn’t allowed to participate in 2018. It sent a spy ship to monitor the event that year.

“In these challenging times, it is more important than ever that our maritime forces work together to protect vital shipping lanes and ensure freedom of navigation through international waters,” Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in the statement. “And we will operate safely, using prudent mitigation measures.”

The exercise is designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships, critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, according to the Navy statement.

“We remain committed to and capable of safeguarding allies and partners throughout the Indo-Pacific region,” Aquilino said. “The flexible approach to RIMPAC 2020 strikes the right balance between combating future adversaries and the COVID-19 threat.”

RIMPAC 2020 will be led by U.S. 3rd Fleet commander Vice Adm. Scott Conn., according to the statement.

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Twitter: @SethRobson

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