By U.S. Navy Capt. Bob Baughman
Vice commander, Task Force 177 of the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center
There are many people who don’t know that the world’s largest multinational maritime exercise, Rim of the Pacific 2016 found its way to Southern California. And it arrived in the form of Task Force 177 and mine countermeasures. This was our second iteration here in SoCal, and based on the successes, I predict that it will be become increasingly robust in years to come.
RIMPAC SoCal was a two-pronged effort with Commander Task Force 177 conducting combined mine warfare operations in the waters off San Diego. The task force was comprised of U.S. and Canadian ships, explosive ordnance disposal technicians, clearance divers and autonomous underwater vehicles /unmanned underwater vehicles. Personnel from the U.S, Canada, Australia, Germany, Japan and Norway participated; their units operated both afloat and ashore. We also incorporated U.S. Navy mine countermeasures (MH-53) helicopters that were both embarked on the amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) and operated ashore. Simultaneously, a couple of hours up the road, Combined Task Force 176 conducted amphibious operations training with U.S. Marines and Mexican navy tank landing ship ARM Usumacinta (A-412) operating out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
As we wrap up RIMPAC SoCal, I want to take a look at the accomplishments and successes of our fine service men and women that paved the wake to victory. Let me start with some of our firsts.
For RIMPAC SoCal 2016, this was the first time that:
- We used a dock landing ship, USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52), as an Afloat Forward Staging Base that hosted coalition divers, unmanned underwater vehicles, and Marine Mammal Systems. Pearl Harbor also embarked Task Group 177.1, which the Australians led.
- The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) participated with an embarked expeditionary mine countermeasures company.
- Two Marine Mammal Systems (dolphin) platoons deployed in the same exercise supporting mine countermeasures operations at sea – clearing sea lines of communication, and in a port opening scenario.
- A Norwegian team participated, employing the HUGIN Autonomous Underwater Vehicle and autonomous underwater vehicle.
- Unmanned underwater vehicle operators from EOD Mobile Unit One conducted missions around ships and piers in a confined harbor operating environment.
- The mine countermeasures ship USS Champion (MCM 4) coordinated with Coastal Riverine Squadron One to cut a moored training shape.
But really, it’s not how many firsts that you have, but how you use them. Our unmanned underwater vehicle assets conducted hours and hours of search operations covering boat lanes, sea lanes and San Diego Bay harbor areas. These exploratory operations resulted in the detection of mine-like contacts for reacquisition, identification and neutralization missions conducted by remotely operated vehicles and coalition divers. For airborne mine countermeasures operations, Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron Fourteen (HM-14) executed mine hunting, mechanical and magnetic minesweeping system missions from USS Pearl Harbor and while based ashore at Naval Air Station North Island. The Royal Canadian Navy’s Kingston-class coastal defense vessels Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Saskatoon (MM 709) and Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Yellowknife (MM 706) provided a surface mine Warfare search capability utilizing towed side scan sonar and the HUGIN Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. They also provided a force protection and patrol capability.
From there, explosive ordnance disposal and clearance divers took over. U.S. and Canadian dive teams conducted reacquisition, identification and neutralization missions on mines and mine-like bottom objects. Meanwhile, on USS Pearl Harbor, divers and unmanned underwater vehicle teams from Australia, Japan and Germany operated closely with the U.S. Marine Mammal System dolphins to clear approaches to San Clemente Island in support of CTF 176 amphibious operations. Champion conducted mine hunting and neutralization missions, identifying and neutralizing bottom and moored mine shapes. Mechanical mine sweeping culminated in the cutting and recovery of an inert mine. When it was all said and done, the combined force located 493 contacts, 77 mines, executed 294 flight hours, conducted 34 pouncer operations, 78 dives, 77 unmanned underwater vehicle missions and 220 hours of marine mammal operations.
Of course, while actual mission accomplishment is important, it’s not the main reason we conduct RIMPAC. It’s really about building relationships and capability with our coalition partners. A common challenge that we always talk about in multi-national exercises is bringing together different countries, different units with different standard operating procedures – and learning to work together as one force; this is no easy task. Coordinating and communicating between units to accomplish the mission can be challenging as units learn each other’s tactics, techniques and procedures, and unique capabilities and limitations.
But what starts as a challenge soon becomes a success – and RIMPAC SoCal is no exception. While the events conducted during this exercise may have enhanced the ability to ensure a systematic and synchronized approach to mine warfare search and clearance operations, the biggest win was the participating units and countries exchanging best practices and lessons learned so that if we need to come together in the future in a real-world crisis, we are ready to train, fight and win as a combined team.
Editor’s note: For more information on RIMPAC 2016, visit the following links:
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