Large-Scale Pacific Maritime Exercises Get Green Light, Despite Pandemic

May 1, 2020 Updated: May 1, 2020

The world’s largest maritime exercises have been given the green light again this year despite the CCP virus pandemic, but will be pushed later into the summer with a compressed time frame.

Sailors involved in the RIMPAC exercises will also not be heading ashore for free time in Hawaii, with the biennial exercises this year limited to an at-sea-only event, according to the U.S. Navy.

After several weeks of speculation that the event may be canceled due to COVID-19, the Navy on April 28 announced that it would be hosting the event from Aug. 17-31—less than half the usual time.

RIMPAC (or Rim of Pacific Exercise) has been running every other year since 1971.

“RIMPAC is designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships, critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” said the Navy in a statement. “The exercise, which takes place in the waters surrounding the Hawaiian islands, is a unique training platform designed to enhance interoperability and strategic maritime partnerships. In 2018, 26 nations participated in and around Hawaii.”

China was disinvited from those 2018 exercises and is unlikely to be included on this year’s final roll call.

“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 of U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. John Aquilino. “And we will operate safely, using prudent mitigation measures.”

The exercises will not include social events ashore where there will be only a “minimal footprint of staff ashore for command and control, logistics, and other support functions.”

Some other joint military exercises have been cancelled due to the impact of COVID-19.

Such joint exercises aren’t just geopolitical chest-beating, but a key ingredient of military power, according to Sidharth Kaushal, research fellow in sea power at the Royal United Services Institute.

“Under a wartime scenario, troops are operating almost on autopilot,” Kaushal previously told The Epoch Times. “That constant drumbeat of exercises is critical, particularly if you are operating with allies that don’t always work with you all year round. [It’s] that readiness that allows things to move like clockwork in wartime.”

While missing one round of exercises wouldn’t degrade effectiveness much, he says, in the longer term, the effect would be more pronounced.

The U.S. military has emphasized in recent weeks that readiness remains high, despite the CCP virus pandemic.

Epoch Times Photo
The USS Nimitz CVN 68, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, arrives at a naval base in the South Korean port city of Busan, southeast of Seoul on Feb. 28, 2008. (Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. Navy has been adapting to the challenges of the pandemic, taking lessons from the outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is now reembarking sailors after being sidelined for over a month.

The Pentagon is prioritizing making sure crews are virus-free when they head out on deployment, which means concentrating testing and quarantine in the time window just before deployment.

The carrier USS Nimitz set sail for training on April 27—but only after a 27-day quarantine period and testing all of the crew.

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