By Rear Adm. Russell Allen
Deputy Commander, U.S. Third Fleet
Director, Rim of the Pacific Combined Exercise Control Group

As the eyes of the world focus on Rim of the Pacific 2016, observers see the impressive images and videos coming out of the multinational exercise that brings together ships, submarines, aircraft and personnel from the 26 participating nations in a collaborative effort to strengthen relationships and improve interoperability in the maritime environment. What the world doesn’t see, however, is the planning and behind-the-scenes efforts that drive this highly-complex exercise.

PACIFIC OCEAN (July 18, 2016) The HMAS Ballarat (FFH 155), USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), CNS Cochrane (FF 05) INS Satpura (F48), HMCS Calgary (FFH 335), and USS Shoup (DDG 35) steam in formation in preparation for a live fire exercise during Rim of the Pacific 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Holly L. Herline)

PACIFIC OCEAN (July 18, 2016) The HMAS Ballarat (FFH 155), USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), CNS Cochrane (FF 05) INS Satpura (F48), HMCS Calgary (FFH 335), and USS Shoup (DDG 35) steam in formation in preparation for a live fire exercise during Rim of the Pacific 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Holly L. Herline)

 

I serve as the director of the RIMPAC Combined Exercise Control Group, a multinational group of 413 personnel from seven nation who work mostly behind the scenes in a very complex environment. Planning for the events that are being executed today began shortly after RIMPAC 2014 ended. Over the past two years, members of the Combined Exercise Control Group and representatives from each nation developed the scenario and created the schedule of events that is providing a realistic, impactful training experience for all of our multinational participants today.

The complexity of RIMPAC is truly astounding. This year, we have 45 ships, five submarines, 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel from 26 nations. Each country has its own training objectives; RIMPAC offers an incredible venue to achieve those goals as well as the unique opportunity to work in a huge, multinational maritime force. Approximately 4,300 events have been meticulously planned to provide specific training scenarios for each participants. During RIMPAC, the Combined Exercise Control Group has the responsibility to manage and execute these events across all ranges of the exercise.

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM (July 19, 2016) Military members from Chile, Australia, Japan and Singapore participate in exercise planning at the Pacific Warfighting Center on Ford Island during Rim of the Pacific 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Katarzyna Kobiljak)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM (July 19, 2016) Military members from Chile, Australia, Japan and Singapore participate in exercise planning at the Pacific Warfighting Center on Ford Island during Rim of the Pacific 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Katarzyna Kobiljak)

 

As you can imagine, in order to provide realistic, real-world training for our participants, the infrastructure is complex and the scheduling and placement of assets is absolutely critical. For example, in order to conduct a combined anti-submarine warfare exercise (a very popular event), the participating ships, aircraft and submarines must be at a specific location at a specific time so they can detect each other and engage accordingly. It is the Combined Exercise Control Group that maintains the schedule and manages the movement of assets so the participants are where they are supposed to be at the time they’re supposed to be there. But let me be clear, the Combined Exercise Control Group doesn’t do the anti-submarine warfare exercise, the combined forces do that! We just introduce the teams to each other.

So far, I’ve described RIMPAC as a bunch of unconnected exercises, a schedule of events managed by the Combined Exercise Control Group. Fun, maybe challenging even, like batting practice before a baseball game. But at some point, you want to “play ball!” That’s where our white cell comes into play, slowly building a road to crisis in an imaginary group of islands based roughly on the Hawaiian Islands. This year, our imaginary islands are called the Coaster Islands and they are rife with political, economic and ultimately military conflict. The RIMPAC schedule of events phase occurs inside that scenario, which culminates with a massive show of force – stay tuned for a very impressive formation photo – as the RIMPAC task force arrives in the joint operational area.

PACIFIC OCEAN (July 16, 2016) French, German, Canadian and American sailors pose for a group shop after conducting a visit, boarding, search and seizure exercise aboard French Navy Floreal-class frigate Prairial (F731), during Rim of the Pacific 2016. (Photo courtesy French navy)

PACIFIC OCEAN (July 16, 2016) French, German, Canadian and American sailors pose for a group shop after conducting a visit, boarding, search and seizure exercise aboard French Navy Floreal-class frigate Prairial (F731), during Rim of the Pacific 2016. (Photo courtesy French navy)

 

Then, everything gets more exciting when the opposing forces enter the exercise. We use our opposing forces ships, submarines and air assets in an attempt to prevent RIMPAC forces from achieving their goals. While the schedule of events phase is highly-scripted, the “free play” phase at the end of RIMPAC creates a more reactionary environment and drives a more real-world response to real-time exercise events.

As you can see, from planning through execution, the Combined Exercise Control Group plays a crucial role in the RIMPAC exercise. In fact, you could say that without the control group, there would be no RIMPAC.