RIMPAC 2014: The Evolution of Cohesiveness

By Rear Admiral Simon Cullen, Royal Australian Navy
Deputy Director of the RIMPAC 2014 Combined Task Force
It has been an absolute honor and privilege to be the first Australian Deputy Director of the Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Combined Task Force. Holding a leadership role in an exercise involving around 25,000 professional service men and women from 22 nations is a career milestone that I’ll always hold dear.Arriving in Hawaii in June, I hoped that my service history would hold me in good stead to make a valuable contribution to this, the biggest iteration of Exercise RIMPAC ever conducted. Having been fortunate enough to complete several wonderful exchange and staff postings to the United States over the years, I believe myself to be fairly fluent in the local military dialect – and American-acronym savvy, so to speak. Thankfully, my experience did serve me well and assuming this important leadership position felt like a fairly seamless transition.

The Royal Australian Navy Durance-class multi-product replenishment oiler HMAS Success (OR-304) departs Pearl Harbor for the at-sea phase of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014. Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, about 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 26 to Aug. 1, in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans.

The Royal Australian Navy Durance-class multi-product replenishment oiler HMAS Success (OR-304) departs Pearl Harbor for the at-sea phase of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014.

 

This has been my fourth RIMPAC, and the changes I have seen over the past eight years have been immense. For a start, I certainly didn’t serve in such an esteemed position when I first came to Pearl Harbor as a young officer in the Royal Australian Navy! The change that is most encouraging is the cohesiveness of the Pacific Rim coalition. The coalition has made extraordinary progress over the years, and is now much more cohesive than it was when I first experienced RIMPAC. This cohesiveness is extremely important to us all, particularly as we work together in the future to promote security and stability in the region.

The focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief this year has been a great success and this is a model that I would like to see grow in prominence at future RIMPACs. The serial represented a scenario that is relevant to all of us in the Pacific region, as all of the participating RIMPAC nations will no doubt be called upon to work together in a humanitarian assistance or disaster relief capacity again in the not too distant future. The Pacific region has a history of natural and man-made disasters, and what defines us is how we pull together to respond.

For this reason especially, it was great to see China and Brunei participate in RIMPAC for the first time in 2014. Both are important nations in our region and the chance to enhance our interoperability and friendships with the defence forces of these countries can only serve to give us confidence in our collective capability to respond to any challenging situation.

Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Success (OR 304) followed by USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) steam in close formation as one of forty-two ships and submarines representing 15 international partner nations during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014.

Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Success (OR 304) followed by USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) steam in close formation as one of forty-two ships and submarines representing 15 international partner nations during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014.

For me, and many members of the Australian contingent, the close engagement enjoyed with officers from Chile was a rare treat and a great experience. Chile had a significant number of officers working in the Pacific Warfare Center throughout the course of the exercise, and their professionalism and skill ensured that all who they worked with held them in high regard. I would certainly encourage Chile to participate in the next iteration of RIMPAC, as their presence this year was certainly positive.

The inclusion of the hospital ships USNS Mercy, from the United States, and PLA(N) Peace Ark, from China, was also a very welcome inclusion in RIMPAC 2014, and I hope their participation continues in the years to come.

This year, as well as performing the role of Deputy Director of the RIMPAC Combined Task Force, I was also the Commander of the Australian National Command Element. From an Australian perspective, we gained extraordinary benefit from our involvement in the amphibious aspects of the sea phase. The Australian Defence Force will soon commission our nation’s first Landing Helicopter Docks, and we will enjoy great advantage from the experience our people have gained through leading the RIMPAC Expeditionary Strike Force from onboard USS Peleliu, and from the combined training our soldiers have conducted with infantry troops and marines from across the Pacific Rim.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche (WMSL 751) refuels at sea with the Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Success (OR 304) as part of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche (WMSL 751) refuels at sea with the Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Success (OR 304) as part of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014.

RIMPAC has grown and evolved into an extraordinary exercise and our hosts, the United States of America, deserve our sincere thanks for conducting yet another enormously successful and constructive iteration of the world’s largest naval exercise. I believe every nation that participated in RIMPAC this year will leave with something of value that they didn’t have when they arrived, be it knowledge, experience or new friendships.

Not only has it been a pleasure to see our military interoperability evolve over the four RIMPACs that I have attended, it has also been quite fun to watch the cultures of the various RIMPAC partner nations evolve as well. When I first attended an official function onboard a Republic of Korea Navy ship, during a RIMPAC Harbour phase many moons ago, I enjoyed a display of traditional dress, drums and tambourines. This year, I must report that times have changed. While I certainly still enjoyed the hospitality aboard ROKS Soeae Ryu Seong-ryong, I was rather surprised to see that the style had progressed from the more traditional affair to a Gangnam Style disco! Perhaps this anecdote shows my age, but it was great to see everyone having fun together before the sea phase began.

RIMPAC 2014 has been a great success, and I hope all of the participating nations take on board the lessons learned during the exercise and continue to strive for better interoperability with all of their partners in the Pacific region.  The ocean we share, the Pacific Ocean, is the world’s largest, and all of our prosperity relies on our collective subscription to the RIMPAC theme: Capable, Adaptive Partners. Thank you to all of the participating nations for contributing to the success of RIMPAC 2014 .

 

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