HONOLULU, Hawaii -- Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper visited sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Essex to experience the Rim of the Pacific exercise — a multinational operation involving 10 nations.
The exercise has been scaled back due to COVID-19, but still had a decent turnout. Australia, Brunei, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, Korea, the Philippines, Singapore and the United States are participating. The participating nations sent 22 ships, a submarine and about 5,300 personnel.
Dubbed RIMPAC, this year's exercise focuses solely on warfighting in the maritime domain. This includes anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare, maritime interdiction operations and robust live-fire events, officials said.
The exercise is held every two years and is an opportunity to strengthen relationships, build trust and increase interoperability among the participating nations, officials said. The nations have to be ready to operate together to respond to threats to international commerce and prosperity or a natural disaster that requires a response from the sea. The U.S. Third Fleet commands the exercise.
On the Essex, Esper met with Navy Adm. John Aquilino, the Pacific Fleet commander. The secretary toured the ship and observed missile and gunfire from the neighboring ships USS Chung-Hoon and USS Lake Erie. He had a private lunch with sailors from various departments aboard the flat top, and he spoke to a socially-distanced group on the ship's hangar deck.
''This ship has incredible capabilities,'' Esper told the sailors. ''It is unique. So much so that the Chinese are trying to mimic its capabilities.
''But they don't have you,'' he continued. ''They don’t have your commitment to service, your skills, your knowledge. They can't compete with us at that level.''
The Essex and her sister ships are in the Pacific to deter China and Russia in this era of great power competition, the secretary said.
''Your presence out here in the Indo-Pacific is all about making sure we compete with China and … if necessary, that you can fight and beat them anytime, anywhere,'' he continued.
The nations participating in RIMPAC do so to learn from each other, Esper said. But they look to the U.S. Navy ''as the standard bearer of what a great navy looks like, how a great navy acts, and performs and behaves,'' he said.
The secretary thanked the sailors for their service and for their ability to fight together as a team.
''You come from all parts of the country, or even outside the country,'' he said. ''You come from all walks of life, and [yet] you come together to fight as one team.''
The sailors all raised their right hand to support and defend the Constitution, he said.
''You're part of the 1 percent who has chosen to do that: to risk your welfare and to sacrifice so that all 338 million other Americans can sleep safely and soundly at night,'' he said. ''Thank you for what you do.''