The biennial multinational Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise will still go ahead this year, albeit reduced in scope and other restrictions in place due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however Defence is taking a wait-and-see approach before committing to participating.

The U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, which sponsors the exercise, has said that the event will take place between the 17th and 31st of August in the waters off Hawaii. This is later than the typical RIMPAC exercise, which is usually help in June and July.

However, Defence told APDR that it has yet to make a decision on whether Australia, which has been a regular participant at RIMPAC, will attend this year’s event.

“Defence is adjusting a range of plans and commitments as it implements the whole-of-Government response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In line with the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and Australian Government, a final decision about the ADF’s participation in RIMPAC has yet to be taken,” a Defence spokesperson told APDR in response to questions about whether the ADF will be at the exercise.

A sea-only exercise

The exercise, which usually takes place across multiple domains including air and land phases, has also been reduced to an at-sea-only event “in light of COVID-19 concerns”, according to the Pacific Fleet news release.

A United States Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Vehicle from USS San Diego approaches the well dock of HMAS Canberra off the coast of Hawaii during Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2016. (© Commonwealth of Australia)

“The at-sea-only construct for RIMPAC 2020 was developed to ensure the safety of all military forces participating by minimizing shore-based contingents. Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet crafted the modified RIMPAC plan as a way to conduct a meaningful exercise with maximum training value and minimum risk to the force, allies and partners, and the people of Hawaii”, the news release added.

This year’s exercise will include multinational anti-submarine warfare, maritime intercept operations, and live-fire training events, among other cooperative training opportunities. Continued planning will remain flexible as U.S. Navy leaders monitor and assess evolving circumstances.

The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC is designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships.The exercise is a unique training platform designed to enhance interoperability and strategic maritime partnerships, with 26 nations including Australia and New Zealand, participating in the 2018 exercise.

“In these challenging times, it is more important than ever that our maritime forces work together to protect vital shipping lanes and ensure freedom of navigation through international waters,” said Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet Adm. John Aquilino. “And we will operate safely, using prudent mitigation measures.”

RIMPAC 2020 is not scheduled to include social events ashore, in keeping with social distancing requirements. Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii will be accessible for logistics support, with a minimal footprint of staff ashore for command and control, logistics, and other support functions for the exercise.

This year’s exercise will be led by Commander U.S. 3rd Fleet Vice Admiral Scott D. Conn. It will be the 27th of the RIMPAC series of exercises, which began in 1971.




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Kym Bergmann
Kym Bergmann is the editor for Asia Pacific Defence Reporter (APDR) and Defence Review Asia (DRA). He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism and the defence industry. After graduating with honours from the Australian National University, he joined Capital 7 television, holding several positions including foreign news editor and chief political correspondent. During that time he also wrote for Business Review Weekly, undertaking analysis of various defence matters.After two years on the staff of a federal minister, he moved to the defence industry and held senior positions in several companies, including Blohm+Voss, Thales, Celsius and Saab. In 1997 he was one of two Australians selected for the Thomson CSF 'Preparation for Senior Management' MBA course. He has also worked as a consultant for a number of companies including Raytheon, Tenix and others. He has served on the boards of Thomson Sintra Pacific and Saab Pacific.


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