PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- Multinational submarine forces conducted high-tech scenario-based exercises in the undersea domain enhancing partnership and cooperation during the world’s largest international maritime exercise, Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) June 27 through August 2.
The Virginia-class fast-attack submarines USS Hawaii (SSN 776), USS Illinois (SSN 786) and Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Olympia (SSN 717) alongside Royal Australian Navy submarine HMAS Rankin (SSG 78) and Republic of Korea Navy submarine ROKS Park Wi (SS 065) conducted carefully coordinated operations ranging from anti-submarine warfare missions to supporting Special Forces (SOF) in amphibious operations.
With a stated goal to build cooperation among Rim of the Pacific participants, these submarine forces employed unique training opportunities designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships, critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s interconnected oceans.
“The integration of the force as a whole collective partnership Navy has been impressive,” said Rear Adm. Daryl Caudle, commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and the theater anti-submarine warfare commander for RIMPAC 2018. “This is a two year planning process and about a two-month execution. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly our partners and allies can come together, and within a short period of time, create such an incredible force working together so collaboratively.”
During the biennial exercise, the robust constellation of allies conducting operations and the active integration of the submarine force contributed to increased lethality, resiliency and agility needed to deter and defeat aggression by major powers across all domains and levels of conflict.
IMPROVING RANGE AND LETHALITY - HARPOON ANTI-SHIP CRUISE MISSILE
One of the highlights of RIMPAC 2018 was live-fire demonstration, for the first time in 20 years, of the submarine-launched Harpoon anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) system conducted by Olympia.
Following the successful completion of two SINKEX launches, the submarine force pursues to reintroduce the Harpoon ASCM system into their arsenal inventory to improve lethality, expand capabilities, and ensure mission readiness.
“Today’s highly capable navies and adversary countries, the competitive countries that we are in power competition, have extremely good surface ships with very capable missile systems themselves,” Caudle said.
The original Harpoon missiles were placed in deep storage in order to reintroduce the capability if required, Caudle explained.
Today, with the potential threat from great power states or rogue nations, there is again a need for a submarine-launched ASCM capability.
“This multinational platform of exercises provided a convenient venue to safely demonstrate the Harpoon ASCM system. This has been at least a year in the making. The folks doing the software coding worked hard up in Newport to get that system and the coding built,” Caudle explained.
In addition to the Harpoon engineering team, the crew onboard the submarine practiced tactics, techniques, and procedures to shoot the Harpoon missile.
“We shot the Harpoon, which worked perfectly, went into cruise, and hit the decommissioned ex-USS Racine (LST-1191) dead center,” Caudle recounted. “The system worked as designed. So we were thrilled. We met all the test objectives.”
Caudle said after a thorough evaluation of that shot to make sure it meets all of the criteria, a decision will be made on how to bring the Harpoon back as a submarine arsenal asset.
“The success of the Harpoon launched by Olympia is a testament to the dedication and cooperation of our technical and operational partners,” Caudle concluded.
EMERGING FROM THE DEEP - SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES
The Pearl Harbor-based submarine USS Hawaii (SSN 776) supported multinational Special Operations Forces (SOF) personnel from the United States, Republic of Korea, Republic of the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Peru, and Japan executing a submarine insertion evolution at sea off the coast of Oahu.
The submarine, using a reconfigured torpedo room, successfully transported about 30 multinational SOF operators to an undisclosed debarkation point for insertion to the beach by using rigid hulled inflatable boats.
"It sounds like it should be easy, but it's a lot of work," said Cmdr. John C. Roussakies, commanding officer of the Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS Hawaii (SSN 776). "It took five to six sailors to carry each raft onto the sub, as we were 'rocking and rolling' on the surface."
SOF personnel used the submarine's lockout chamber to exit the submarine, inflate rigid hull inflatable boats, and finally make an amphibious landing to carry out a mission as part of the exercise.
"For some of our partner-nation special operators, submarine evolutions like today were new," said Army Capt. Matthew Song, detachment commander of Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha from 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group based out of Okinawa, Japan. "We rehearsed the day before, and that set us up for success because they executed the mission well today."
Song said amphibious insertion operations like the one performed during RIMPAC are essential because it provides critical standoff distance for our special operators during maritime operations.
But the purpose of this exercise goes beyond mastering SOF tactical maneuvers. Its main goal is to demonstrate the value of capable and adaptive maritime partners.
"The main purpose of RIMPAC is to bring countries together and build partnerships," said Roussakies. "Developing that interoperability is important because it's a big ocean out there, and we cannot do the job ourselves."
Roughly 70 percent of the world is water, 80 percent of the world’s population lives on or near a coast, and 90 percent of international commerce moves by sea. Capable maritime partners help ensure stability and prosperity around the world, and RIMPAC helps participating nations improve capability, Roussakies concluded.
CAT AND MOUSE
The role of a submarine is to navigate anywhere around the world to be on scene, unseen. During this year’s exercise, multinational surface ships played a sort of “cat and mouse” game with submarines, attempting to locate surface ships while also attempting to evade detection.
“During the exercises, we conducted anti-submarine maritime exercises to search for submarines from the detection phase all the way to the advanced engagement stages,” said Peruvian Capt. Jorge Vásquez, commanding officer of the Peruvian Frigate, BAP Ferre (PM 211).
Conversely, submarines were also engaging in detecting surface ships.
“We were hunting ships and we were also being hunted by ships,” said Australian Navy Lt. Kristy-Ann Youd, the navigating officer aboard Rankin. “We’ve been working hard all year to achieve success.”
Rankin’s Executive Officer, Australian Navy Lt. Cmdr. Susan Louise Harris, also stressed the importance of RIMPAC’s impact in enhancing international relations.
“RIMPAC has always been the highlight of our program. The exercise has grown so much over the years that it now allows us to work with a large variety of units we normally wouldn’t be able to work with.”
SUBMARINE RESCUE SYMPOSIUM
As part of RIMPAC, submariners from all nations discussed the different ways they can all work jointly in the event of a submarine accident or casualty.
“The great thing about RIMPAC is that we get more participation from around the world, specifically Asian countries that were not able to join our working groups throughout the year,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Joshua Powers. “This increased and diversified participation allows us to engage with our partners who operate submarines and are interested in submarine rescue."
One of the most valuable discussions was on the lessons learned from recent submarine incidents, including the tragedy of Argentinian submarine ARA San Juan that cost the lives of all hands on board.
“First of all, it’s about people. We are trying to save people and you can’t put a price on that,” said Royal Norwegian Navy Cmdr. Dag Hanssen. “It is easy to share what you are doing, what your plans are, what your equipment is because all of it is unclassified. All of this is about saving lives.”
The symposium included an extensive demonstration of the U.S. submarine search and rescue procedures and a workshop discussing and exchanging procedures performed differently by other nations and within their own submarine communities.