HMNZS TE KAHA and HMNZS ENDEAVOUR sailed from Devonport Naval base at the beginning of June bound for Hawaii and Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC 2012), being conducted from 29 June to 3 August.

Other units from the NZ Defence Force are also taking part in the exercise—the Operational Diving Team and the Mine Counter Measures Team, a Rifle Platoon from 1 Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K Orion and a number of headquarters staff.

RIMPAC is the world’s largest international maritime exercise, involving 22 countries, 25,000 personnel, 42 ships, eight submarines and over 200 aircraft spanning all maritime-based warfare disciplines. It is set in a coalition environment that includes live firing, specialist serials such as amphibious training and integration with advanced littoral capabilities.

“This is the first time in 28 years that the NZ Defence Force has taken part in RIMPAC. It offers a key opportunity to work alongside a large number of Pacific nations building interoperability and relationships,” says Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, Major General Dave Gawn.

NZDF involvement in RIMPAC will include a broad spectrum of activities from Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) through to high end conventional warfare. These exercises form a vital part of the NZDF’s training. They allow the defence force to prepare for a variety of likely contingencies to ensure that New Zealand can play its part effectively in working with other nations to reduce conflict and improve stability in our region and around the globe.

New Zealand’s participation will also be aligned with key NZDF strategic objectives including a focus on supporting the South Pacific and the development of our amphibious capability.

TE KAHA’s CO, Commander Jon Beadsmoore, says RIMPAC is not just another exercise.

“Across the board, while the serialised stuff we will be doing is similar to what we are used to, it’s the scale of the exercise that makes it interesting,” he says.

“We normally exercise with 10 to 20 ships. Here are six major combat groups—groups of six to eight frigates, destroyers and cruisers and eight submarines. For us it’s the only operation where we get to operate with nuclear submarines, so from an anti-submarine warfare aspect, it’s a great environment. ASW is an area we don’t get much work with.”

Nations taking part in RIMPAC 12 include the United States, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Peru, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, India, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, Russia, Tonga and the United Kingdom. Observer nations include Bangladesh, Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, the Maldives, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam.

CDR Beadsmoore said TE KAHA would be working with Chilean, Canadian, and Mexican ships in one of two task groups working with USS ESSEX, an amphibious assault ship that would be carrying New Zealand’s Rifle Platoon.

“We see it as a multinational exercise. The guy I work for is Chilean [the CO of Chilean frigate CS ALMIRANTE BLANCO ENCALADA]; the guy he works for is Canadian. It’s similar to what we do in the Middle East. It will be a bunch of people we don’t normally work with. It will be a huge experience. Another key point of the exercise is the professional relationship-building and learning we will get.

“RIMPAC’s exercise area is 500 nautical miles top to bottom. With so many ships you are pretty remote from the ESSEX but we will get in to work with it at times. You are right in there with all the hardware but it’s a big chunk of ocean so you may not get close to a lot of them. The idea is to be dispersed and come together again when you need to be. You go in and play your war games, two sides against each other.”`

From a military perspective, RIMPAC allowed New Zealand to bolt into a very large military organisation that was running a significant air as well as sea operation.

“It’s designed to prove interoperability in a true multi-national perspective.”

CDR Beadsmoore said TE KAHA would have only one RAS (Replenishment at Sea) with ENDEAVOUR but would be refuelled by tankers from various other nations.

“Our lads and laddesses will be happy as they will be spending their money in Hawaii.”

ENDEAVOUR’s CO, Commander Keith Robb, says ENDEAVOUR will operate as part of Task Group 173 (Sea Logistics) in one of the three nominated RAS stations surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. Her primary role will be to refuel surface ships participating in RIMPAC but she will also have the capability to embark and transfer stores and rations as well as refuelling helicopters in-flight.

“As ENDEAVOUR is a relatively small tanker she will herself be replenished with cargo fuel at sea from larger US tankers as required,” CDR Robb said. “This will allow ENDEAVOUR to remain on station for the duration of the exercise.

“When not required for replenishment it is expected that ENDEAVOUR will join other surface Task Groups to act as the High Value Unit [HVU] for warfare serials or as the target ship for Maritime Interdiction operations.”

ENDEAVOUR will be operating with ships from the US Military Sealift Command namely USNS MATTHEW PARRY (dry cargo and ammunition), and the oilers USNS YUKON and HENRY J KAISER. Also included is the Russian Federation Replenishment Ship BORIS BUTOMA.

The theme for RIMPAC 12 is “Capable, Adaptive, Partners.” The scenario sees the Hawaiian Islands geographical charts amended for the exercise’s tactical phase. The exercise outline sees the RIMPAC combined force—in response to regional tensions and in support of UN Security Council resolutions—conduct deterrent operations and posture for major combat operations against an aggressive regional power and insurgent movement. The RIMPAC force will conduct conventional warfare training and peacetime operations with a steady increase in operational tempo as the situation deteriorates. Live mine warfare operations will be conducted in San Diego.

The Mine Counter Measures Team will combine with USN to form two integrated US/NZ REMUS (Remote Environment Monitoring Units, an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) teams, focusing on Pearl Harbour and Honolulu Harbour mine threat clearance. The Operational Dive Team will be part of a larger coalition of diving teams. The main exercise area will be SOCAL, off San Diego.

The NZDF infantry platoon will be embedded in a United States Marine Corps-commanded rifle company consisting of four platoons being one each from the USMC, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. NZDF land involvement will focus on amphibious training as part of the 3rd Marine Regiment that will form a Special Purpose Marine Amphibious Group Task Force for the exercise.

The RNZAF P-3K Orion will integrate into the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA) fleet conducting advanced coordinated operations within the Anti-Submarine Warfare, Anti-Surface Warfare and overland Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance disciplines

Twenty-eight personnel will augment various roles within the coalition Headquarters targeted at professional development.

Naval Today Staff, July 4, 2012; Image: RNZN