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Ships arrive for war games

By William Cole

LAST UPDATED: 4:46 p.m. HST, Jun 29, 2010

Dozens of ships from 14 nations were parked two deep yesterday in Southeast Loch as the U.S. prepares for the start of Rim of the Pacific war games next week in and around Hawaii's waters.

The last of the 32 ships to arrive was the biggest: the hulking aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan out of San Diego pulled into port with 4,500 crew and air wing members, the Navy said.

Five submarines, more than 170 aircraft and about 20,000 personnel are taking part in RIMPAC, which involves the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

The biennial RIMPAC, the world's largest international maritime exercise, technically began June 23, but preceding days comprise an "in-port" phase.

"You'll see an influx of 20 to 22,000 people -- all who have been recently paid that would like to come spend time in the local economy," Adm. Patrick Walsh, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, said at an opening RIMPAC news conference yesterday.

According to the Navy, the exercise in 2008 resulted in $43 million in contracts and spending ashore.

This year's exercise includes units or personnel from Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Peru, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and the U.S.

The Navy also said there will be three observer nations: Brazil, India and New Zealand.

All 32 ships will pull out of Pearl Harbor next Tuesday and July 7 for scheduled events including gunnery exercises, anti-submarine warfare, amphibious beach assaults, vessel boardings and ship-sinking practice.

A tactical "free play" segment will round out the exercise, scheduled to end Aug. 1, with a yet-to-be-announced warlike scenario.

Walsh made reference yesterday to the gathering of "like-minded nations," adding that "we've learned, by the sheer challenge of security and stability operations at sea, that we must come together from very diverse backgrounds" to operate in times of need.

The exercise is the 22nd RIMPAC held since 1971. U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Richard Hunt said yesterday that early RIMPACs were "blue water"-oriented.

"Today it has been pushed a little bit closer in -- and much of the exercise will demonstrate and exploit the capabilities we have in the littoral," Hunt said in a reference to near-shore waters.

Much of the Pacific region's people and commerce traverse littoral waterways.

The Navy's first littoral combat ship, the San Diego-based Freedom, is participating in RIMPAC. The 377-foot Freedom is capable of speeds in excess of 40 knots (46 mph) and can operate in water less than 20 feet deep. The ship acts as a platform for launch and recovery vehicles, and a modular design supports changing "mission packages," including anti-submarine, mine or surface warfare.

Also among the newer-technology ships taking part is the stealth frigate RSS Supreme from Singapore.

Navy officials said the waters of Hawaii offer unparalleled deep- and shallow-water training, as well as the opportunity to conduct amphibious beach landings.

The U.S. and four other nations will take part in beach landings at Bellows Air Force Station from the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, the Navy said.

"We will go through every phase of potential warfare -- so we will exercise in blue water, we will exercise in the littoral," Hunt said.

Diesel submarines from Japan and South Korean are participating. A proliferation of quiet diesel-electric submarines in the Pacific from nonallied nations represents a growing threat for the U.S.

Ensign Wataru Okada, 24, communications officer on the Japanese destroyer Atago, spent four years in Japan's National Defense Academy, one year in officer candidate school, and was on a six-month cruise to the Middle East before heading to Pearl Harbor for RIMPAC.

"This is the first year for me (for RIMPAC)," he said. "I really wanted to work with the other countries to think about the position of the Japanese."

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