The oiler Henry J. Kaiser, left, delivers a 50-50 blend of biofuel and petroleum-based fuel to the cruiser Princeton on July 18 during RIMPAC. While much has been said about the biofuel initiative, the exercise also includes some new players, including Russia and Mexico. (MCSA Ryan Mayes / Navy)
- Filed Under
The largest-ever Rim of the Pacific exercise will conclude Aug. 7 after bringing together 21 countries, 25,000 troops, 40 ships, six submarines and 200 aircraft for a 42-day training evolution.
While a lot of publicity has surrounded the Navy's "Great Green Fleet" of biofuel-filled ships, there are other reasons to keep close watch of what's going on in the waters around Hawaii.
This year's larger military turnout could be credited to China's growing economic influence and expanding blue-water navy. China's pushiness into regional issues is unsettling some governments.
"This leads to greater demand for U.S. involvement and leadership to offset possible Chinese domination," said Denny Roy, senior fellow with the East-West Center in Honolulu. "Almost everyone in the region wants an insurance policy against the possibility of overbearing Chinese behavior."
But China wasn't invited. It cut military ties with the U.S. in 2010 because of America's arms sales to Taiwan, and the relationship got even cooler because of China's dealings with Iran. In the buildup to RIMPAC, China's state-run media grumbled that India got invited and they didn't.
Chinese and U.S. forces have plans to partner down the road, however. In late June, Adm. Samuel Locklear, head of U.S. Pacific Command, met his Chinese counterpart and addressed a top military academy in China with hopes of rebuilding military-to-military ties. China and the U.S. in May agreed to jointly perform humanitarian assistance/disaster relief and counterpiracy exercises, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Relationships don't have to be golden for countries to participate in RIMPAC, a neutral ground for nations that don't typically interact or train together.
Russia, for example, sent warships to RIMPAC this year for the first time. So did Mexico, whose navy focuses largely on coastal patrol. Mexico's leaders want greater U.S. cooperation and military interactions. The country's play in RIMPAC, which included training with Marines, could signal the start of more joint maritime exercises.
The 2012 exercise sees a return of four countries — Colombia, France, Malaysia and Thailand — that first participated in the biennial event in 2010. India, Norway and the Philippines each sent command staffs to observe and work with the overall combined task force, but India shelved original plans to send a ship for what the task force commander, Vice Adm. Gerald Beaman, told reporters was another commitment.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus' biofuel initiative at RIMPAC has been impossible to ignore.
Despite congressional criticism over the high price of biofuel, Mabus still believes it'll ultimately be cheaper and safer for the environment than petroleum-based fuels. The aircraft carrier Nimitz took on 180,000 gallons of a biofuel blend for aircraft; the algae-, fat- and plant-based biofuel also powered the cruiser Princeton and destroyer Chafee during RIMPAC.
It looks like the U.S. won't go at it alone: Australia has agreed to work with the U.S. to develop biofuel for military use, and a larger demonstration is planned in 2016, The Australian newspaper reported.