The big biennial maritime exercise Rim of the Pacific will be held later than usual this summer and be an at-sea-only event due to COVID-19 concerns, U.S. Pacific Fleet said today.
The 27th RIMPAC will be held Aug. 17-31 off Hawaii. Typically, the world’s largest international maritime exercise starts at the end of June and runs into very early August.
“The at-sea-only construct for RIMPAC 2020 was developed to ensure the safety of all military forces participating by minimizing shore-based contingents,” Pacific Fleet said in a release. “Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, crafted the modified RIMPAC plan as a way to conduct a meaningful exercise with maximum training value and minimum risk to the force, allies and partners, and the people of Hawaii.”
“I’m pleased the Navy has agreed to postpone the RIMPAC 2020 exercise and will conduct the at-sea portion this year to help keep Hawaii safe as we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gov. David Ige said in a statement.
He added that he is working with Adm. Phil Davidson, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, to monitor the situation.
“If conditions change later this summer, we will reassess and respond appropriately,” Ige said.
The Navy said RIMPAC is designed to foster cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
The exercise “is a unique training platform designed to enhance interoperability and strategic maritime partnerships,” according to the release.
RIMPAC in 2018 drew 25 nations, 46 surface ships, five submarines, 17 land forces and more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel to Hawaii and Southern California.
“In these challenging times, it is more important than ever that our maritime forces work together to protect vital shipping lanes and ensure freedom of navigation through international waters,” said U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino. “And we will operate safely, using prudent mitigation measures.”
Said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz in an emailed statement, “This is the right decision for the health and safety of Hawaii’s residents, our armed forces, and our allies. I thank Commander Davidson and Commander Aquilino for working with our state to find a solution that keeps people safe and maintains our military readiness.”
With the Navy seeking to limit the spread of COVID-19, RIMPAC 2020 is not scheduled to include social events ashore.
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam will be accessible for logistics support, with a “minimal footprint of staff ashore” for command and control, logistics, and other support functions, the service said.
The Navy said this year’s exercise will include multinational anti-submarine warfare, maritime intercept operations, and live-fire training. Planning will remain flexible with evolving circumstances, the service said.
“We remain committed to and capable of safeguarding allies and partners throughout the Indo-Pacific region,” Aquilino said. “The flexible approach to RIMPAC 2020 strikes the right balance between combating future adversaries and the COVID-19 threat.”
RIMPAC typically boosts Hawaii’s economy by more than $50 million. The exercise usually starts with a shore phase in which ships are crowded together sometimes two and three deep in Pearl Harbor.