By Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet
Oceanographer of the Navy; Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command
As I braced for landing in the rear-facing seat of a C-2 Greyhound from the Providers of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 30 aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) last week during the Rim of the Pacific 2016, it became hyper-clear to me that even though the various warfighting scenarios in the exercise were simulated, the safety precautions for operating the aircraft, ships, missiles, and other complex and potentially dangerous equipment were indeed very real.
I landed on Stennis to visit my teams of aerographer’s mates and meteorology and oceanography officers who were forecasting weather and ocean conditions for the ships and aircraft of Carrier Strike Group Three. In discussing their work with me, my Sailors made it clear that there was another aspect of the exercise that was altogether very real – Mother Nature. The forecasters on board were busy plotting the track of Tropical Storm Darby, which was expected to roll through the entire Northern region of the exercise area affecting nearly all of the 40+ ships, submarines, 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel. No simulation there! As Commander Submarine Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Rear Adm. Frederick Roegge said in his blog post last week, “…preparing for what could be ‘worse’ is also part of RIMPAC 2016.”
Similarly, the operational teams of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (NMOC, Commander Task Group 80.7 under U.S. Fleet Forces) have been busy throughout RIMPAC ensuring that all participants considered the real-world physical environment to operate safely and effectively.
- Fleet Weather Center San Diego, as the Combined Meteorology and Oceanography Coordination Cell, are coordinating all forecasts and weather impacts for RIMPAC events. One key area of support was their recommendation for USNS Navajo (T-ATF 169) towing decommissioned USS Crommelin (FFG 37) for the live-fire sinking exercise. They advised to go west out of Pearl Harbor and avoid the Kauai Channel due to higher winds and seas and poor seakeeping conditions. The recommendation ensured that the ship arrived on station in time to release the tow and execute the successful sinking exercise.
- Strike Group Oceanography Teams on board Stennis and amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) provided support to the ships and assigned forces of Commander Task Force 170 and Commander Task Force 176 respectively.
- Fleet Survey Team showcased their rapid littoral survey capability for both the humanitarian assistance/disaster relief mission as well as verifying clear amphibious landing sea lanes for safe navigation. Naval Oceanography Mine Warfare Center Post-Mission Analysis cell supported the Expeditionary Mine Counter Measures Company on board littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1), operating out of Southern California.
- Fleet Weather Center San Diego Fallon Detachment supplied a forecaster specializing in strike forecasting to augment the Strike Group Oceanography Team for Stennis’ air wing operations during the exercise. Naval Oceanography Anti-Submarine Warfare Center provided critical oceanographic environmental analysis and planning information to air, surface and subsurface units throughout the exercise.
Before departing Stennis that afternoon, I caught up with the ship’s commanding officer (and my ’89 U.S. Naval Academy classmate) Capt. Greg Huffman. As a decorated fighter pilot and test pilot, he’s been a frequent recipient of my Sailors’ weather and strike forecasts throughout his career. When I shared with him all that we were doing in RIMPAC, his eyes got wide, and he said, “I knew about the weather, but had no idea about all the other work.”
As the C-2 gained altitude after my first (and very real!) carrier catapult shot, I glanced at Stennis below, realizing that my departure was well-timed. Within 48 hours, 34 ships of all participating nations, including CVN-74, diverted from their planned operations to avoid Tropical Storm Darby -thanks to the warnings issued by my Joint Typhoon Warning Center and their parent command Fleet Weather Center San Diego. And while the exercise was suspended for a time, there was a positive aspect of these events. Rear Adm. Russ Allen, U.S. 3rd Fleet’s deputy commander and director of the RIMPAC Combined Exercise Control Group shared with me his view, “While we were unable to complete some of the scheduled events, participants practiced hazardous weather avoidance in a collective, complex operating environment. This is something we’d have to do in any real-world scenario, so the entire evolution, safely executed, has value.”
This made me proud of my meteorology and oceanography Sailors in the RIMPAC exercise; they certainly made it real.
Editor’s note: For more information on RIMPAC 2016, visit the following links:
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