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RIMPAC exercise praised as a key tool for global prosperity

U.S. Air Force Capt. Jason Coleman and his daughter watch as the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz pulls into Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to support the Rim of the Pacific 2012 exercise.

JON DASBACH/U.S. NAVY

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: July 3, 2012

HONOLULU — As Rim of the Pacific war games get started, the head of the U.S. Pacific Fleet said the exercise is a "unique training opportunity that strengthens our maritime partnerships."

"As you know, roughly 70 percent of the world is covered in water. Eighty percent of the world's population lives on or near the coast, and 90 percent of our international commerce moves by the sea," Adm. Cecil Haney said. "So it requires capable maritime forces to help ensure that stability and economic prosperity around the world — and RIMPAC helps partnering nations prove that capability."

Military representatives from some of the 22 nations participating in RIMPAC 2012 were arrayed around Haney on Monday during a news conference at Pearl Harbor kicking off the big exercise. RIMPAC runs through Aug. 3.

One country absent from the gathering was China, and Haney avoided answering why the rising Pacific power was not invited to observe or participate to some degree in RIMPAC.

"As we go forward, we encourage more (military-to-military) relationships" with China, Haney said. "Clearly, we've been working on a strategic level, and we desire more operational and tactical-level things to do in the mil-to-mil category."

Haney added that "as we look at moving forward with China, we look forward to them joining us in the humanitarian, civic-action category of work, because we look for China to join us as a responsible nation responding to humanitarian assistance, disaster- relief kinds of things."

The last time the U.S. Navy and China worked together ship-to-ship was during a reciprocal humanitarian assistance disaster relief drill in 2006, the U.S. Pacific Fleet said.

A 2011 study by the U.S. Army War College said that while U.S. Pacific Command was viewed by China as a source of cooperation, the command became seen by China as more of a potential enemy whose mission was containing China.

Some 25,000 personnel, 40 ships, six submarines and more than 200 aircraft are participating in RIMPAC. The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz arrived Monday with several thousand sailors and aviators.

During RIMPAC 2010, according to the War College report, Japanese and South Korean submarines were able to penetrate defenses and directly engage the U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan.

Royal Australian Navy Commodore Stuart Mayer, the RIMPAC maritime component commander, said the exercise has been organized around meeting the needs of participating countries.

"EACH country is falling into the area that most interests them," Mayer said. "It's going to be across the whole island chain, so we can create those sort of different packages of training."

Some nations want to focus on maritime security, while others want to focus on anti-submarine warfare. For the first time, RIMPAC will have a disaster relief component, testing crisis response to a mass casualty and involving state emergency agencies in mid-July, officials said.

Three decommissioned Navy ships also will be sunk during RIMPAC after the Navy said it suspended ship sinking exercises two years ago to look at the cost, benefits and environmental impacts. A new policy was put in place by the Navy in 2011.

The three ships have been "cleaned, cleared (and) scrupulously scrubbed of all PCBs and petroleum," said Vice Adm. Gerald Beaman, the RIMPAC combined force commander.
 

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