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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 25, 2006

Rimpac part of new wave in Pacific

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Amphibious assault operations, like this one in Waimanalo in 2002, are part of Rimpac training. The monthlong exercises start tomorrow.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | July 14, 2002

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ABOUT RIMPAC

More than 40 ships including the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, six submarines, 160 aircraft.

Almost 19,000 military personnel.

Participants include Australia, Britain, Canada, Chile, Japan, Peru, South Korea and the United States.

Estimated economic impact on Hawai'i in 2004: $25 million.

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The USS Belleau Wood, an amphibious assault ship that was decommissioned in 2005, will be one of four vessels sunk during this year's Rimpac exercises. Also scheduled for sinking is the USS Mauna Kea.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | Feb. 10, 2006

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The monthlong Rim of the Pacific naval exercises that start tomorrow will involve military forces from eight nations working to build a new model for mutual security in the Pacific, military officials said.

Speaking June 3 in Singapore, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the "designs of violent extremists and rogue regimes" are being countered by a growing network of security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, with the U.S. as a partner.

The network of defense relationships in the Pacific is notably unlike the situation in Europe, which has the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, he said.

"But now we see an expanding network of security cooperation in this region, both bilaterally between nations and multilaterally among nations," Rumsfeld said.

Taking part in Rimpac this year are personnel from Australia, Britain, Canada, Chile, Japan, Peru, South Korea and the United States. The massive multinational "sea control and power projection" exercise has been held since 1971.

The biennial exercises are a chance for different navies to run through combined operations at sea. Tactical maneuvers include anti-submarine warfare, missile exercises, aircraft operations, amphibious landings, special warfare operations, humanitarian assistance and mine warfare.

The exercise also has a significant effect on Hawai'i's economy. The military in 2004 estimated that as much as $25 million is spent by visiting sailors and others.

"First of all, strategically, it's an excellent opportunity for eight countries to work together," said Jim Tollefson, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i. "Economically, it's going to be positive for Hawai'i with so many participants. The hotels get more business, the restaurants get more business, the bars get more business."

More than 40 ships including the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, six submarines, 160 aircraft and almost 19,000 sailors, airmen, Marines, soldiers and Coastguardsmen will take part in Rimpac training operations.

"This is an excellent opportunity to really build better coalitions and especially when thinking about moving these kind of resources in and around," said Lt. Rob Lyon, a Rimpac spokesman. "The communication task alone to make sure that everyone can talk on the same frequency (is difficult), not to mention occupying the same waters with warships. These are real challenges that we've been able to overcome."

SINKING THE SHIPS

The massive exercise will even include the sinking of four vessels, including an aircraft carrier-like ship nicknamed "Big Dog" and an ammunition transport named after a Hawaiian mountain.

The decommissioned ships to be sunk with missiles, gunfire and possibly torpedoes are the amphibious assault ship USS Belleau Wood, the ammunition ship USS Mauna Kea, the combat stores ship USNS Mars and an 80-foot sludge removal barge, the Navy said.

Lyon said Japanese, South Korean and Australian ships began pulling in on Friday. The remainder will arrive this week.

Both the Lincoln and the carrier USS Ronald Reagan are expected at Pearl Harbor this week the Lincoln for Rimpac and the Reagan for a one-day stop. Both recently participated in the exercise Valiant Shield off Guam.

Wednesday through July 3 is an "in-port" phase to go over training scenarios, Lyon said.

KEEPING WHALES SAFE

Among the tasks emphasized will be avoiding marine mammals, and teaching watchstanders how to spot the animals.

New restrictions on active sonar use are expected to be in place with new evidence emerging that sonar "pings" can harm whales and dolphins.

"It's really a very sensitive issue and we want to make sure all participants in the exercise, those from the Hawaiian operating area and those outside the area, understand how to properly deal with these issues," he said.

On July 5 and 6, the ships will get under way.

Lyon said anti-submarine warfare "is a large portion of this exercise."

Cmdr. Bruce Shaw, the antisubmarine warfare integration and planning officer for Pacific Fleet, on Thursday said "submarines pose a threat because of their stealthiness and because they can hide very close to ships and not be detected."

"Diesel submarines which are the coming trend are even more difficult to find because they are very quiet," Shaw said. More than 140 foreign diesel subs operate in and around the Pacific.

DANGERS OF DIESEL SUBS

A diesel sub attack in a constricted choke point like the Strait of Malacca the passage between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra through which a lot of global commerce flows would have far-reaching effects, said Capt. Matt Brown, a Pacific Fleet spokesman.

"The economic impact that would have, not only on the U.S., but Japan, Korea, China, East Asia, is just very considerable," he said.

Six submarines, including at least four diesel subs from South Korea, Australia and Japan, are expected to take part in Rimpac.

Sub hunting during Rimpac typically involves a "surface action group" consisting of one to five surface ships equipped with sonar, one or more helicopters, and a P-3 Orion aircraft, the Navy said.

There will be about four surface action groups and approximately 44 anti-submarine warfare operations during Rimpac with an average event length of about 12 hours.

During the week of July 10 the four ships will be sunk, Lyon said.

One of the ships destined for sinking is the 820-foot Belleau Wood, which became part of the Navy's inactive ship fleet at Middle Loch on Nov. 16. The amphibious assault ship deployed in 2004 to the Persian Gulf with helicopters and AV-8B Harrier jump jets. More than 60 combat sorties were flown off its flight deck.

In 1992, landing craft and helicopters from the ship delivered trucks, bulldozers, portable toilets, water purification equipment and food to victims of Hurricane Iniki on Kaua'i.

It was the first Tarawa-class amphibious assault ship to be decommissioned. The flight deck since has been empty except for an anchor.

SO LONG, MAUNA KEA

The 511-foot ammunition ship Mauna Kea, named after the Big Island landmark and the tallest mountain in the Hawaiian chain, was commissioned in 1957. In 1967, it made its first trip to Vietnam and re-armed carrier groups, cruisers and destroyers for six months.

The 581-foot combat stores ship Mars, meanwhile, was the lead ship of its class of ships. It was commissioned in 1963.

Lyon said the ships will be sunk in water no shallower than 1.1 miles deep and at least 50 miles from land off the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kaua'i.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.