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Rim of the Pacific 2016 war games termed 'a huge success'

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: August 5, 2016

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — The monthlong Rim of the Pacific 2016 maritime exercises have wrapped up in Hawaii with a number of firsts, and impacts near and far.

Among those firsts, a U.S. Navy littoral combat ship, a type of vessel increasingly being deployed to Singapore and the South China Sea, launched an over-the-horizon Harpoon missile — improving the ship’s standoff distance from potential enemies as it prepares for its first deployment to the Western Pacific.

The U.S. and Chinese navies collaborated on a submarine rescue exercise.

And Australia’s big amphibious ship HMAS Canberra landed Marine Corps Osprey aircraft on its deck, while Navy hovercraft and Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles operated from the Canberra’s rear well deck — increasing interoperability for future operations in the Pacific.

From one end of Waikiki to the other, meanwhile, RIMPAC, with 26 participating nations and 25,000 personnel, was just as big for business.

RIMPAC “was giant for us,” said Tina Rohal, who handles tattoo bookings at Tattoolicious on Ala Wai Boulevard. “We could have stayed booked out for the entire time. Definitely a huge revenue booster for us.”

The beginning of July, when RIMPAC ships were in the harbor phase and free time was available, was “crazy busy,” Rohal said. “And then with the return here over the next few days before they all go home has also been busy.”

In addition to U.S. sailors, “we saw a lot of New Zealand, Australia and Canada in particular,” she said. “Anything kind of nautically related” was really big for tattoos. “We got a lot of ocean-themed requests, King Neptune, tridents, anchors, underwater scenes.”

The biennial RIMPAC, this year in its 25th iteration, saw a gathering of 45 ships, five submarines and more than 200 aircraft. Billed as the world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC kicked off June 30. The interoperability drills were held mostly in and around the Hawaiian Islands but also off Southern California.

The exercise that saw dozens of ships pour into Pearl Harbor will see them pour out again today, the Navy said.

The exercise was interesting enough to draw uninvited guests. A Russian destroyer and intelligence ship operated in international waters off Hawaii. Russia wasn’t invited to this year’s RIMPAC. The last time a Russian spy ship stopped by Hawaii was in 2004, also coinciding with RIMPAC, U.S. Pacific Fleet said.

RIMPAC spokeswoman Lt. Rochelle Rieger said that overall the exercise was “a huge success.”

“This unique opportunity has allowed 26 different nations to get to know each other, to train together and to build a level of trust among one another,” Rieger said. “The conclusion of RIMPAC is a time to celebrate the relationships made over the past month and what they will enable us to do in the future.”

Amphibious operations — getting troops and equipment from ship to shore — were a particular emphasis with a growing number of Pacific nations showing greater interest in the capability. That importance was highlighted in some of the high-tech ships at RIMPAC.

The stealthy USS San Diego is among the most advanced amphibious ships ever built. The $3 billion USS America is the size of a World War II aircraft carrier. And Canberra, the Australian navy’s biggest ship, can land more than 1,000 personnel by helicopter and watercraft.

A New Zealander, Commodore James Gilmour, was in charge of the amphibious task force.

To be successful in preserving and promoting a rules-based international order, like-minded nations have to be able to work together in trust, and that interoperability is advanced during RIMPAC, Gilmour said on a U.S. Navy website.

“Trust is not a commodity that can be surged when needed,” Gilmour said. “When called upon to act together, we must be able to do so rapidly. There will not be time to build trust in ourselves, our teams, our equipment, our coalition partners or our procedures from scratch. This is the role that exercises such as RIMPAC play.”

The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis spent just under five months in the Western Pacific, with most of that time in the South China Sea, before heading to Hawaii for RIMPAC. During the exercise, the flattop participated in air defense and surface and anti-submarine warfare drills — and hosted Vice President Joe Biden.

More than 5,000 personnel are on the Stennis, including its air wing. At the beginning of the exercise, including over the July Fourth weekend, sailors had free time, and some brought in families for a vacation in Hawaii.

State economists forecast an initial $52.5 million boost to Hawaii’s economy, based on the number of exercise participants and time in port, with an impact of tens of millions more expected after purchases of supplies, fuel and food, and spending by family and friends of participating personnel were figured in, the Navy said.

Alex Burr, a dive instructor with Living Ocean Scuba, which offers dive tours out of Kewalo Basin, said when RIMPAC service members have time off, it “keeps us busy. It keeps us doing stuff. It keeps us out on the boats. But more importantly, it gets the military guys to be able to see some of the island they wouldn’t be able to see from the military.”

Burr, who also drives for Uber, said RIMPAC was “a huge influx” for that business. “Obviously, guys (here for RIMPAC) don’t have cars on the island, so anywhere they go they need to get a ride,” he said.

Brian Navarrete, general manager at Hula’s, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-friendly bar in Waikiki, said, “I think the beginning part of (July) when everyone was coming in, for us it helped out a lot.”

The bar, which had an “Aloha! RIMPAC” banner out front, saw a lot of Americans, New Zealanders and Australians, he said.

The Navy said less free time is offered at the end of RIMPAC, but many ship crew members still just worked half-days, allowing them to spend time — and money — in Honolulu.

©2016 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Marines compete in a timed marksmanship competition at Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, during RIMPAC 2016, as two Australian soldiers monitor the event.
WYATT OLSON/STARS AND STRIPES

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