For RIMPAC SoCal 2016, this was the first time that:
- We used a dock landing ship, USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52), as an Afloat Forward Staging Base that hosted coalition divers, unmanned underwater vehicles, and Marine Mammal Systems. Pearl Harbor also embarked Task Group 177.1, which the Australians led.
- The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) participated with an embarked expeditionary mine countermeasures company.
- Two Marine Mammal Systems (dolphin) platoons deployed in the same exercise supporting mine countermeasures operations at sea – clearing sea lines of communication, and in a port opening scenario.
- A Norwegian team participated, employing the HUGIN Autonomous Underwater Vehicle and autonomous underwater vehicle.
- Unmanned underwater vehicle operators from EOD Mobile Unit One conducted missions around ships and piers in a confined harbor operating environment.
- The mine countermeasures ship USS Champion (MCM 4) coordinated with Coastal Riverine Squadron One to cut a moored training shape.
PACIFIC OCEAN (July 23, 2016) Members of the Marine Mammal System (MMS) team load a MK-7 MMS dolphin into a combat rubber raiding craft on the stern gate of amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) during well deck operations as a part of the Southern California portion of Rim of the Pacific 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks/ Released)
But really, it’s not how many firsts that you have, but how you use them. Our unmanned underwater vehicle assets conducted hours and hours of search operations covering boat lanes, sea lanes and San Diego Bay harbor areas. These exploratory operations resulted in the detection of mine-like contacts for reacquisition, identification and neutralization missions conducted by remotely operated vehicles and coalition divers. For airborne mine countermeasures operations, Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron Fourteen (HM-14) executed mine hunting, mechanical and magnetic minesweeping system missions from USS Pearl Harbor and while based ashore at Naval Air Station North Island. The Royal Canadian Navy’s Kingston-class coastal defense vessels Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Saskatoon (MM 709) and Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Yellowknife (MM 706) provided a surface mine Warfare search capability utilizing towed side scan sonar and the HUGIN Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. They also provided a force protection and patrol capability.
From there, explosive ordnance disposal and clearance divers took over. U.S. and Canadian dive teams conducted reacquisition, identification and neutralization missions on mines and mine-like bottom objects. Meanwhile, on USS Pearl Harbor, divers and unmanned underwater vehicle teams from Australia, Japan and Germany operated closely with the U.S. Marine Mammal System dolphins to clear approaches to San Clemente Island in support of CTF 176 amphibious operations. Champion conducted mine hunting and neutralization missions, identifying and neutralizing bottom and moored mine shapes. Mechanical mine sweeping culminated in the cutting and recovery of an inert mine. When it was all said and done, the combined force located 493 contacts, 77 mines, executed 294 flight hours, conducted 34 pouncer operations, 78 dives, 77 unmanned underwater vehicle missions and 220 hours of marine mammal operations.
Of course, while actual mission accomplishment is important, it’s not the main reason we conduct RIMPAC. It’s really about building relationships and capability with our coalition partners. A common challenge that we always talk about in multi-national exercises is bringing together different countries, different units with different standard operating procedures – and learning to work together as one force; this is no easy task. Coordinating and communicating between units to accomplish the mission can be challenging as units learn each other’s tactics, techniques and procedures, and unique capabilities and limitations.
But what starts as a challenge soon becomes a success – and RIMPAC SoCal is no exception. While the events conducted during this exercise may have enhanced the ability to ensure a systematic and synchronized approach to mine warfare search and clearance operations, the biggest win was the participating units and countries exchanging best practices and lessons learned so that if we need to come together in the future in a real-world crisis, we are ready to train, fight and win as a combined team.
For more information on RIMPAC 2016, visit the following links: