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22 nations, including first-ever Chinese ships, set to begin RIMPAC

Jun. 25, 2014 - 04:49PM   |  
Crew members of the Chinese destroyer Haikou man the rails in port June 9 before departing for the Rim of the Pacific exercises. The ship is one of four from China that will be the first from that nation to participate in the event.
Crew members of the Chinese destroyer Haikou man the rails in port June 9 before departing for the Rim of the Pacific exercises. The ship is one of four from China that will be the first from that nation to participate in the event. (Hu Kaibing/Xinhua via AP)
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Participating U.S. Ships

Twenty-four American ships are scheduled to participate in the 2014 Rim of the Pacific exercises in the waters around Hawaii. Five more ships will remotely participate from the waters off southern California.
The list of U.S. ships participating in the month-long exercise from Hawaii:
■ Cruisers Cape St. George, Chosin, Lake Champlain and Port Royal.
■ Destroyers Chafee, Michael Murphy, Sampson and Spruance.
■ Frigates Gary and Rodney M. Davis.
■ Aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan.
■ Amphibious assault ship Peleliu and dock landing ship Rushmore.
■ Littoral combat ship Independence.
■ Fleet replenishment oilers Henry J. Kaiser and John Ericsson, fast combat support ship Rainier, hospital ship Mercy, fleet ocean tug Navajo and salvage ship Salvor.
■ Coast Guard Legend-class cutter Waesche.
■ Three attack submarines; officials declined to release their names or classes.

The world’s largest multination naval exercise kicks off Thursday, and this year includes an unusual player: for the first time, the Chinese navy.

China is dispatching four ships to the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise held around Hawaii, joining 22 other nations in maritime training slated to involve 47 ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 sailors, 3rd Fleet said in a news release in the run-up to the event.

The Chinese inclusion recognizes their growing naval might and comes amid territorial disputes with neighbors and some recent run-ins between warships, including those of the U.S. Navy.

China is sending 1,100 officers and sailors aboard the destroyer Haikou, frigate Yueyang, supply ship Qiandaohu and hospital ship Peace Ark, along with two helicopters, a commando unit and a diving squad, according to the nation’s official Xinhua news service.

In addition to long-standing turmoil with Taiwan, China has recently clashed with Vietnamese ships, had close calls with Japanese aircraft over the Senkaku Islands, and engaged in a turf war with the Philippines over Scarborough Reef and Second Thomas Shoal. The Philippines and Japan will take part in this year’s RIMPAC; Taiwan, which China views as a rightful part of its territory, was not invited.

The cruiser Cowpens on Dec. 5 nearly collided with a Chinese amphibious ship in the South China Sea after the Chinese ship cut off Cowpens at high speed. The high-stakes confrontation was de-escalated by the commanding officer of the Chinese flattop, which the Cowpens reportedly had been shadowing from 30 miles away.

More 'military dialogue'

Easing tensions and enhancing cooperation between the navies is a big part of the rationale for China’s invitation.

“As the United States builds a stronger foundation for a military-to-military relationship with China, it also will continue to monitor China’s evolving military strategy, doctrine, and force development and encourage China to be more transparent about its military modernization program,” the Pentagon said in an annual 2014 report to Congress.

Beijing in 2012 said RIMPAC exercises were designed to bolster U.S. relations in the Asia-Pacific while containing China’s emerging navy, pointing to invitations of the Russian and Indian navies as proof.

These charges were a key point of discussion between President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping last year. Both countries agreed that “enhanced and substantive military dialogue and communication would foster greater understanding and expand mutual trust,” the report said.

China’s attitude has eased with this year’s invitation. Vice Adm. Xu Hongmeng, deputy commander of China’s navy, told Xinhua that the mission is an important part of efforts to build a new model of relations between China and the U.S. The Chinese warships are scheduled for a port visit in San Diego after the exercise, the Chinese newspaper Global Times reported.

China’s participation isn’t the only first for RIMPAC 2014. Brunei, a small country that borders Malaysia, is new to the roster with two patrol craft. In addition, two hospital ships — the USNS Mercy and China’s Peace Ark — will be the first of their kind to participate. This exercise will also introduce special operations forces.

This is the 24th RIMPAC exercise since 1971, with the U.S. contingent led by the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. Six submarines (to include one sub apiece from Australia, Canada and South Korea) and more than 200 aircraft will also be put to the test.

“RIMPAC has a long, rich tradition dating back to 1971, so we’re incredibly excited to be participating in this important international exercise,” Capt. Christopher Bolt, Reagan’s CO, said June 19 as the flattop left California waters for the exercise. “Every opportunity we have to strengthen relations with our partner countries and exercise cooperative efforts allows us to improve the way in which we provide safety and security for the world’s sea lanes.”

Hosted by U.S. Pacific Fleet, RIMPAC 2014 is scheduled to run from Thursdayto Aug. 1. Events will cover everything from disaster relief and maritime security operations to sea control and complex war fighting, according to a Navy release.

“The relevant, realistic training syllabus includes amphibious operations, gunnery, missile, anti-submarine and air defense exercises as well as counterpiracy, mine clearance operations, explosive ordnance disposal and diving and salvage operations,” the Navy said.

Other participating nations include Chile, Colombia, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Tonga and the United Kingdom.

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