By Rear Adm. Frederick J. “Fritz” Roegge
Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet
This year, I have the privilege to serve as Rim of the Pacific 2016’s theater anti-submarine warfare commander and submarine operating authority. I have two major goals in this position. The first is the safety of RIMPAC submarines and personnel while training in the Hawaiian operating area, and the second is training RIMPAC forces to improve our ability to operate together.
Meeting these objectives is no small task: RIMPAC 2016 is the largest ever, featuring 47 ships (including five submarines) from 26 nations, for many of whom English is a secondary language. So these two objectives, safety and training, are related. To enhance exercise safety, there’s an ever-escalating series of training events. This begins with briefing and training in-port during the harbor phase, progresses through unit-level training in coordinated anti-submarine exercises and leads to group level-training through integrated operations concluding with free-play. If our training is effective and we do our job well managing waterspace and preventing interference, then every participating ship will complete RIMPAC with no scraped paint or dented fenders – or worse. But preparing for what could be “worse” is also part of RIMPAC 2016.
As the size of RIMPAC increases, so does its complexity and the scope of RIMPAC events. This year it’s notable that we conducted the first-ever RIMPAC bilateral and multinational submarine rescue vignette. The humanitarian nature of search and rescue makes for common ground; all countries should be able to cooperate in submarine rescue, but good intentions aren’t enough. It also requires very specialized equipment and expertise that must be practiced.
Approximately 50 navy military and civilian personnel from eight countries kicked off the submarine escape and rescue exercise with a symposium where participants reviewed global submarine search and rescue techniques, including the use of the International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office rescue coordination website. Australia, Canada, Chile, China, the Republic of Korea, Japan and the United Kingdom joined us for the symposium, which was followed by a submarine rescue tabletop exercise held at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. The tabletop exercise was structured to take participants through the critical decision-making process of searching for and locating a disabled submarine.
The nations participating in the tabletop worked through the complex scenario for global rescue system deployment and exchanged ideas on ways to further improve cooperation for any real event with an overall goal to minimize time to first rescue.
Following the tabletop exercise, we practiced what we learned and took our partnership to sea!
During the at-sea exercise, U.S. Navy submarine rescue experts embarked the Chinese navy submarine rescue ship Changdao (ASR 867) and worked with Chinese navy counterparts to launch the PLA(N) undersea rescue vehicle LR-7. The purpose of this event was to demonstrate that the LR-7 is compatible with the rescue seating surfaces on western submarines. To do this, the U.S. Navy has a seating surface of the correct dimensions that can be used for training. Divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One – using their mixed gas helium oxygen deep diving system from Military Sealift Command’s Rescue and Salvage Ship USNS Safeguard – placed this training rescue seat on the bottom just off the coast of Oahu. The LR-7 then conducted a successful, first-ever mating evolution with this faux-U.S. rescue seat.
It was a completely successful exercise on both sides. All participants agreed the rescue vehicle mating exercise was a culmination of a very detailed and well-planned RIMPAC training evolution.
There are more than 400 submarines operating around the world and their numbers are growing. And the ocean is not very forgiving, so although it’s rare for a modern submarine to become disabled, it’s not unprecedented. You hope you never have to use these submarine rescue skills in a real-world scenario, but it’s important that we have them and that we’re ready at a moment’s notice to use them. With the successful completion of these RIMPAC submarine escape and rescue events, we’ve added to the community and the capability that can respond should there ever be a need to do so.
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