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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More players entered in Pacific war games

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

U.S. and foreign ships will be lining up again at Pearl Harbor for the Navy's biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise, which begins in June.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | May 30, 2000

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The Pacific will see a spike in aircraft carrier exercises this summer, with an unprecedented amount of training at least for the past decade planned off Hawai'i's waters and elsewhere.

"This summer you will see some significant activity in the Pacific, multiple aircraft carriers operating together with their associated forces, operating at some times with other nation's navies in the region," the Navy Times reported Adm. Gary Roughead, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, as saying.

"In point of fact, one of the carriers that will be operating in the Pacific is an Atlantic Fleet carrier. That has not been done in a long time," Roughead said yesterday.

Navy Times said three carrier strike groups will participate in a June exercise in the Western Pacific, a carrier will be part of Rim of the Pacific naval exercises in July off Hawai'i, and two carriers will take part in August training.

"We have not seen this level of aircraft carrier activity for a couple years," Roughead said. "That number of aircraft carriers in the Pacific under way, in close proximity to each other, (hasn't happened) in 10 years."

Roughead made his comments at an Asia Society luncheon in Washington.

Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, the Navy's big biennial exercise involving multiple nations that's held in Hawai'i waters, is scheduled for June 26 through July 28.

Two years ago 40 ships, seven submarines, 100 aircraft and nearly 18,000 sailors, airmen, Marines, soldiers and Coast Guard personnel from seven countries participated in RIMPAC. The nuclear aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, now based in Bremerton, Wash., was the 2004 centerpiece and flagship for the multinational force commander.

Among RIMPAC activities are ship maneuvers, amphibious landings, troop movements, weapons exercises, anti-submarine exercises, mining and demolition, ship sinkings, special warfare and humanitarian operations.

Jim Tollefson, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i, said the naval presence in Hawai'i of the RIMPAC vessels alone will be a real boost for O'ahu's economy.

"We're looking forward to RIMPAC being here as we always do. It's a real shot in the arm to the economy," Tollefson said.

Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a Honolulu-based research institute affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said this summer's muscle flexing may be intended to reaffirm the nation's commitment to preventing the proliferation of piracy, terrorism at sea and weapons of mass destruction at a time when U.S. ground forces are stretched thin by war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"They have certainly put the North Koreans on notice that we may not be able to come up with a solution to North Korea's nuclear problem, but we want to make sure that North Korea's nuclear problem doesn't become al-Qaida's solution," Cossa said.

"Demonstrating the ability to still conduct naval operations and the ability to project power from the sea, I think, sends a signal to the North Koreas and Irans of the world."

The exercises also may be an affirmation of the U.S. commitment to East Asia after some mixed signals may have been received to the contrary, Cossa said.

Copley News Service, citing a Pacific Fleet spokesman, said two carrier strike groups would be involved with RIMPAC exercises, along with ships from Australia, Chile, Japan, South Korea, Peru and others.

Officials yesterday at Pearl Harbor said the number of nations and ships participating still is being determined. One or more decommissioned ships from the inactive ship fleet at Middle Loch is expected to be sunk with missiles or torpedoes in the exercise, which also will have 44 anti-submarine warfare operations involving submarines, surface ships and P-3 aircraft searching for target submarines, according to an environmental assessment.

Roughead in September kicked off an anti-submarine warfare training cycle for U.S. Navy forces in the Pacific, calling sub warfare the "fleet's top maritime war-fighting priority."

Pacific Fleet said submarines have become increasingly quiet and sophisticated over the years, and today there are more than 250 in the Pacific within reach of critical choke points and navigational sealanes.

RIMPAC 2006, the 20th such exercise, includes plans for "non-combatant evacuation operations," or NEOs, at Majors Bay at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kaua'i, and on Ni'ihau, a privately owned island 17 miles southwest of Kaua'i where traditional ways of life, including the Hawaiian language, have been preserved.

Roughead at yesterday's meeting also said preparations are under way to send the naval hospital ship USNS Mercy out of San Diego on a humanitarian mission to the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia this spring.

"Sending this uniquely capable ship with a multispecialized medical team is one way to demonstrate our commitment to the Asia-Pacific region, and to working together with our friends, partners and the regional community," Roughead said.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.