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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, June 8, 2004

RIMPAC brings dozens of ships, lots of business

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Sailors and ships from the U.S. Navy and seven other nations will pour into Pearl Harbor in the coming weeks to take part in the Pacific's largest international maritime exercise.

More than 35 ships — including the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis — seven submarines, 90 aircraft and 11,000 sailors, airmen, Marines, soldiers and Coast Guard personnel are participating in Rim of the Pacific 2004.

Held biennially in the waters off Hawai'i, RIMPAC is scheduled June 29 through July 27 and includes ship-sinking exercises, torpedo exercises and a 321-foot experimental wave-piercing catamaran.

It also brings with it a short-term economic boost for Waikiki. The Navy estimated that two years ago, a contingent minus an aircraft carrier pumped $11 million into the local economy.

The Hale Koa Hotel, operated for military personnel, runs at 97 to 98 percent occupancy, but sees increased food and beverage sales during RIMPAC, said General Manager John Jefferis.

"I definitely think it's beneficial for Waikiki, and I know other hotels also appreciate the business," Jefferis said.

Pre- and post-exercise free time adds up to about a week's worth of business, he said.

"They kind of hit all at once, so you get a lot of business in kind of a spike," Jefferis said.

The Navy said that by enhancing interoperability, RIMPAC helps promote stability in the region to the benefit of all participating nations.

"RIMPAC 2004 is an outstanding opportunity for our forces and our closest partners in the Pacific, as well as our friends from the United Kingdom, to foster professional and personal relationships that will help to ensure stability in the Pacific Rim through cooperative security efforts for years to come," said Rear Adm. Doug "Hound Dog" McClain, U.S. Pacific Fleet deputy chief of staff for operations, plans, policy and training.

"The Pearl Harbor 'ohana takes pride in welcoming our international friends and our Mainland shipmates to palekaiko (paradise)," McClain added. "When the forces arrive, they will enjoy the aloha that Hawai'i represents. This biennial exercise is a great opportunity to showcase America's number one home port and celebrate America's birthday."

In addition to the United States, participating nations include Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Peru, South Korea and the United Kingdom and observer nations Ecuador, Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore and Thailand.

It's a busy time for naval exercises: Ships from Canada and Australia are on their way to Hawai'i as the U.S. Navy also undertakes "Summer Pulse 04," the simultaneous deployment this summer of seven aircraft carrier strike groups.

The deployment is a test of the Navy's Fleet Response Plan, a new training, personnel and operations construct intended to provide greater force readiness and the ability to deploy faster in an emergency.

More than 6,200 sailors with the Stennis strike group left San Diego May 24 for an exercise in Alaska and the trip to Hawai'i for RIMPAC.

A rifle company of Marines from Kane'ohe Bay; cruisers Lake Erie and Chosin; destroyers Paul Hamilton and O'Kane; submarines Olympia and Key West and Hawai'i Air National Guard F-15 fighters are among Hawai'i-based forces taking part.

The exercise will include training in tactical proficiency, non-combatant evacuation operations, amphibious assault, anti-submarine warfare and humanitarian assistance training.

Among the ships in use will be the HSV-2 Swift, a catamaran that draws only 11 feet of water, has a top speed of almost 50 knots, can transport 605 tons of cargo and has the ability to get in close to shore.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.