Naval war games days away
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
Navies from 15 nations are converging on Hawai'i for war games that are part of the biggest naval exercise in the Pacific.
More than 40 ships, seven submarines, 100 aircraft and almost 18,000 sailors, airmen, Marines, soldiers and Coast Guard personnel are participating in Rim of the Pacific 2004, which gets under way Tuesday and runs through July 27.
The big exercise, staged every other year, will include the sinking of decommissioned ships, cat-and-mouse games between stealthy diesel submarines and ships and planes that hunt them, aircraft carrier flight operations, Marines storming the beach at Bellows, and the appearance of a more than 300-foot "wave-piercing" leased catamaran that has both the Army and Navy interested.
"RIMPAC will enhance the tactical proficiency of participating units in a wide array of combined operations at sea," U.S. Pacific Fleet said. "By enhancing interoperability, RIMPAC helps promote stability in the Pacific Rim region to the benefit of all participating nations."
Participating merchants on O'ahu also benefit big. The Navy estimates the local economy will get a $25 million boost from visiting sailors expected to shell out $100 a day while on leave.
"Let's look at it this way: You've got about 18,000 people descending on Hawai'i. A lot of them are staying in the hotels, they are going to patronize the local restaurants," said Lt. Erik Reynolds, a 3rd Fleet officer and spokesman for RIMPAC.
Ship arrivals are somewhat staggered, and sailors are expected to have some leave on arrival, and at the conclusion of their involvement in the exercise.
Participating nations include Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Peru, South Korea, Britain and the United States. Observer nations include Ecuador, Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore and Thailand.
RIMPAC has been held periodically since 1971. Two years ago, war needs meant an aircraft carrier wasn't available for the exercise, and with 11,000 personnel involved, there were fewer participants.
Despite ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Stennis and six other U.S. carriers out of a fleet of 12 will be at sea simultaneously this summer as part of an exercise to test the ability of the Navy flattops to be ready to deploy on shorter notice and for varying lengths of time.
Among the ships sure to get attention this year at RIMPAC is the HSV-2 Swift, a leased aluminum-hulled catamaran and successor to the similar HSV-X1 Joint Venture in U.S. Army service.
The giant transports that from the front look as if they are floating above the water rather than on it, draw only about 11 feet of water, making them ideal for getting close to shore, and speed along at more than 40 knots. The Army's Logistics Support Vessels average about 12 knots.
Testing by the Marines showed that one high-speed vessel could transport almost 1,000 troops and 152 Humvees.
The Army is interested in using a similar ship it calls a Theater Support Vessel, or TSV, to ferry its planned fast-response Stryker Brigade of 291 eight-wheeled armored troop transports.
The leased HSV-X1 Joint Venture is at Pearl Harbor now unrelated to RIMPAC, and will be here through the beginning of August.
Next month it will take part in an exercise with the Indian navy off the Big Island. Although the Joint Venture technically is part of the 545th Transportation Company Detachment based at Ford Island, the transport doesn't spend much time in Hawai'i.
The U.S. Navy has eyed HSVs for transportation and counter-mine operations. Adm. Tom Fargo, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said in March that he was looking at putting special operations forces and Marines on high-speed vessels to interdict terrorists operating at sea.
Hawai'i Superferry Inc., meanwhile, plans to offer high-speed service between the Hawaiian Islands starting in 2006.
For RIMPAC, the HSV-2 Swift will be used for countermine exercises and in conjunction with trials of an autonomous underwater robot called Seaglider, a 6-foot vehicle with stubby wings that monitors underwater conditions.
"When Marines go onto a beach, that sort of information is very valuable," Reynolds said.
The diesel submarines Rankin from Australia, Simpson from Chile, Narushio from Japan and mine countermeasure ships Defender and Avenger are among the visiting ships already at Pearl Harbor for RIMPAC. The aircraft carrier Stennis arrives Tuesday, and the HSV-2 Swift is expected July 5.
Sporting events including soccer, baseball and surfing competitions are planned among the countries, and a big Fourth of July "block party" with fireworks and an appearance by comedian Jay Mohr is planned at Pearl Harbor.
RIMPAC also has a ripple effect beyond visits to Waikiki Beach. Y. Hata & Co. Ltd. on Sand Island Access Road, which has contracts to supply U.S. Navy ships with all food items except milk and bread, is extra busy with ships such as the Stennis and its 5,000-member crew pulling in.
"We work weeks in advance with lots of overtime for our employees in order to fulfill our obligations," said Laurence Vogel, president and CEO of the food distribution company.
"It's safe to say RIMPAC is one of the largest exercises (in Hawai'i) and has the greatest impact," said Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i President Jim Tollefson. "It does have a major impact for a period of time. We're pleased with it for two reasons. One, it helps support the security and well-being of the United States and fosters cooperation with our allies in the Pacific, and two, there's the economic impact that falls out of that."
Reach William Cole at email@example.com or 525-5459.