RIMPAC 2016: Tabletop exercise gathers US, Chinese submarine rescuers

Some 50 submarine officers and civilian contractors from seven countries worked together in a Rim of the Pacific 2016 submarine rescue tabletop exercise held at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, July 12.

The tabletop exercise preceded a practical submarine rescue exercise conducted by the U.S. and Chinese navies in the Pacific Ocean, July 13.

“The tabletop exercise is designed to take participants through the critical decision process to search for and locate a disabled submarine,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Kenn Knittel, commanding officer of Naval Reserve Undersea Rescue Command Headquarters in San Diego. “We saw thoughtful discussions among all the participants, and I feel that everyone learned something to make their programs stronger.”

Knittel said getting a variety of international submarine communities under one roof for the tabletop exercise and for collaborative discussion was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a personal highlight of his naval career.

The July 13 practical exercise between the U.S. and Chinese navies will further collaboration between the two nations by embarking on the Chinese submarine rescue ship Changdao (ASR 867) and launching an undersea rescue vehicle LR-7, to conduct an actual mating evolution with a faux NATO rescue seat.

This will demonstrate the technical skills and ability of the Chinese system to attach to the standard NATO rescue-seating surface, an international standard in submarine design, and will serve as an important step in demonstrating China’s ability to support an international rescue event.

“China’s submarine rescue ship is very capable. It is dynamically positioned, has a saturation diving capability and operates a very capable rescue system,” said Bill Orr, the technical advisor for the International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office. “This will be the first multinational demonstration of the system. They will mate to a target plate that will enable us to validate that it could mate to any submarine that has a standard rescue seat. It is always great to watch a nation demonstrate their rescue capabilities that they could deploy in support of any submarine in distress.”

Orr said the collaborative exercise represents an important step in U.S. and Chinese maritime cooperation.