Rimpac war games united nations
By Richard Halloran
The United States, particularly the Bush administration, has often been accused by politicians, academics and assorted critics in other nations, including several in Asia, for acting unilaterally, a fancy word for going it alone.
A large-scale naval exercise just concluded in the seas around the Hawaiian Islands, however, suggested that such criticism is off the mark. Warships, submarines and aircraft from seven nations joined with those of the U.S. for a month of drills, maneuvers, and especially, practice in sailing together. Officers from four more nations came along as observers.
Adm. Gary Roughead, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet that brought them all together, said the exercise known as Rimpac, for Rim of the Pacific, featured two new elements. One was "an operational level headquarters that allowed planning at a fairly high level to go on." This was intended to train leaders in large operations as opposed to the tactics of driving ships.
Moreover, he said in an interview: "For the first time in Rimpac, we brought all the participants together into one common information domain. Everyone was using the same information network to share information, to plan, to work from a common operating picture." This automated system replaced radio-telephone circuits used before.
This 20th Rimpac in a series dating to 1971 drew crews from Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Chile, Peru and Britain. Observers came from India, Singapore, Malaysia and Ecuador.
Russia, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Mexico were invited but declined to send observers for whatever reasons their governments had.
Nor were observers invited from the Chinese navy, which is seeking the capability to project power away from China's shores and out into the Pacific, possibly to compete with the U.S. Navy. Chinese officers in June observed a U.S. Navy exercise centered on three aircraft carriers near Guam.
The Pacific Command, to which the Pacific Fleet belongs, has been gradually expanding exchanges with China's armed forces in an effort to assure the Chinese of peaceful American intentions and to preclude Chinese miscalculation. Roughead left open the possibility that China would be invited to watch Rimpac in 2008 if other participating nations agreed.
Among the fundamental problems of Rimpac and, indeed, any military operation that draws on forces from different nations is language: In this year's Rimpac, in which the operating language was English, were four crews whose mother tongue was English, two who spoke Spanish, and one each who spoke Korean and Japanese.
However, the English spoken by Australians, Britons, Canadians and Americans is not necessarily the same English. An Australian officer, air force Group Capt. Tony Needham, said: "A couple of people I tried to talk to had difficulty understanding me because of my Australian accent." He added with a chuckle: "I find that, of course, hard to understand."
Even among the Americans of different services were some garbles. Brig. Gen. Greg Inde of the U.S. Air Force, who ran an air operations center controlling more than 200 sorties a day of Navy and Air Force pilots, discovered: "We speak different languages, and we found out initially that we have different acronyms." He added: "That's why we practice. That's why we have exercises."
Each of the Chilean, Peruvian, Japanese and Korean ships had either officers who spoke English or translators. Nonetheless, working under pressure in a language foreign to them was difficult. That hurdle was overcome in three ways:
The visiting crews have departed for home, but the work of Rimpac is not over, as Roughead has set his staff to capturing lessons learned. "We asked every participant, immediately after the exercise is over, to give us their recommendations."
He said he had urged everyone to be candid. "I don't want 'happy dust,' " he said, "I want to know how we as a military force can be better."
Richard Halloran is a Honolulu-based journalist and former New York Times correspondent in Asia. His column appears on Sundays in this section.