Military exercises underway off Hawaii | Pacific Beat

Military exercises underway off Hawaii

Military exercises underway off Hawaii

Updated 6 July 2012, 11:49 AEST

What's being billed as one of the largest ever international maritime exercises, RIMPAC, got underway this week off Hawaii.

It involves 22 participating nations, including Australia, New Zealand and Tonga, and the list of firepower and people is impressive.

Some 42 surface ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are taking part in RIMPAC.

Two big-deck U.S. navy ships, the aircraft carrier Nimitz and amphibious assault ship Essex, will be the centrepieces of the war games as they launch aircraft and fend off mock attacks by submarines and simulated missiles.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Commodore Stuart Mayer RAN, Commander of the maritime forces of all nations during RIMPAC

 
MAYER: Well the exercise has elements from all three services. And then each of the components of the maritime, the land and the airforce are commanded by an officer, and Australia was asked to provide the maritime commander where we coordinate all the activities of the 46 ships and aircraft associated to it. 
 
COUTTS: And what kinds of things will you be doing? I mean there are mock assaults etc., but how does that unfold, how do you go about that kind of exercise?
 
MAYER: Well RIMPAC's a particularly complex exercise. The 22 participating nations that you talked about, all of whom have different training objectives. And what we try and do is tailor the exercise to meet the training objectives of each of those countries. So in one area we'll do everything such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, to maritime security, indeed to the more complex war fighting objectives, such as anti-submarine warfare or air and warfare air defence. 
 
COUTTS: And what is the point of this? Is it because there's growing interest from many nations now in the Asia Pacific region?
 
MAYER: Well RIMPAC as you said in your introduction, this is the 23rd time that we've actually done the exercise, so it's not something that has sprung up overnight, but indeed the level of interest from nations in the region continues to increase. It is something that we recognise that no one nation can be responsible for protecting the maritime common. And it actually needs the collective effort of all like-minded nations to work to providing a secure maritime domain through which so much of the wealth of this nation flows. 
 
COUTTS: And the 22 nations, any of them Pacific, I know Australia does exercises with New Caledonia, but I think in the past they've been observers to exercises like this?
 
MAYER: Look there's definitely an observer program in which a number of nations do participate. But countries such as Tonga are here with an infantry platoon, there's nations such as Indonesia, Thailand, a lot of the regional countries all come with a force that matches their ability to participate in this sort of exercise. So it really is meant to be an open door and then we tailor the actual exercise to meet the challenges and requirements of the individual country. 
 
COUTTS: How long do they go on for?
 
MAYER: Well the sea phase will be about three to four weeks long. It will start with some very basic types of serials to build that understanding, which you'd imagine is a bit of a challenge between 22 different countries, not all of whom are English speakers, and will culminate in the early part of August with the most complex elements of the war games. 
 
COUTTS: Can you just give us perhaps little examples of each of the components, Pacific examples?
 
MAYER: The Pacific component? Well the Tongan side has an infantry platoon, so does Indonesia. Thailand has elements of their staff that are with us here in the headquarters. Malaysia has some, Japan has a number of ships. The RIMPAC itself, it literally is that entire rim of the whole Pacific where we bring in nations as far afield as South America, such as Chile and Russia from the north of the Rim as well. The observer program at the tail-end of the exercise, we're still waiting on some confirmation on exact, who will be coming, for example countries such as Papua New Guinea have been invited to send observers, but they're obviously very busy themselves with a complex election process underway. So, we look to involve as many people as we can at the level appropriate for each of those nations. 
 
COUTTS: And it's grown considerably, I think not so long ago there were about eight nations who took part, this year 22 participating nations. So again there's obviously a scene and as you describe a common interest to take part in these kinds of games. But how do you go about it? I mean do you put out an email asking for participants to take part? How does this get going, how does it start?
 
MAYER: It is a phenomenally complex beast. In fact there's a couple of officers that have been responsible for planning this for two years, and I think on the 5th of August when we get ready to finish up and start heading home they'll start planning for the next one. And it really does start with that process, almost of an email that says ok, are you interested in coming? What are the things that you'd like to do? What is it that your navy, that your army, that your airforce would want to work on in cooperation with others in this sort of climate? And we then start from that and we build up, and it literally does take almost two years to go from concept through to execution. 
 
COUTTS: And how do you go about assessing its success or failure?
 
MAYER: Well I think that the first thing is making sure that we get the training objectives of each individual country and they achieve that sense of what they want to do. But the level of the exercise goes from the sense of yeah we feel like we've got a good thing at one end, to the ability to use very complex instruments at ranges when we do live weapons firings, that can analyse how the weapons are performing and whether indeed the ships combat systems and operations are technically and operationally proficient or not. So it's both a sense of quantitative assessment to qualitative assessment throughout the exercise. 
 
COUTTS: And what does Australia want to get from the exercises?
 
MAYER: Well Australia's very keen to remain in 'cooperation' with all those nations. So we're very conscious that we want to have a part in the full spectrum of activities. So our airforces will be operating principally with the amphibious force based on USS Essex ethics. Our maritime patrol aircraft and wedgetail aircraft will be working in an anti-submarine warfare role, and indeed working the carrier Nimitz in air defence role, and our ships will be doing everything from anti-piracy to maritime security, all the way up to the very complex war fighting roles in support of the carrier strike group. In fact HMAS Darwin will be taking on a role that is typically only ever exercised by the US, which is to be the air defence commander that will support that carrier strike group. So, we've got a very ambitious list of activities that we're trying to do, incredibly good use of money for us to operate in such a dense environment. And I think Australia is well situated right now to achieve everything that we've set out to do.
 
COUTTS: Well good luck with the games. I can't get my head around these two big deck ships and six submarines all floating around in the same area. It's just amazing to have so much personnel, 25-thousand personnel there and you're in charge of it all. I mean the mind boggles but I guess that has the same impact on you?
 
MAYER: Absolutely, the great thing I get to rely on is there's a staff of about 200 that provide that support to me so I'm lucky I just get to provide that oversight to it all. But if we keep everyone separate when they need to be separate, and everyone together when they need to be together, I think the actual quality of the sailors and officers and airmen and soldiers will make sure we get what we need to out of this exercise.

Contributors

Geraldine Coutts

Geraldine Coutts

Presenter

Geraldine is a respected voice on issues in the Pacific and is the presenter of our morning Pacific Beat  program.

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