Every two years, the United States organizes and hosts the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC). This is the world’s largest maritime exercise, this year involving some 32 ships, 5 submarines, more than 170 aircraft and 20,000 personnel. Participating countries include Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Peru, Singapore and Thailand. It is a clear and powerful demonstration of the value of collaborative defense efforts in the Pacific region.
While RIMPAC has been going on since 1971, this year is notable for, among other things, the first appearance at one of the biennial events of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). USS Freedom, LCS 1, is demonstrating the characteristics that will make the planned fleet of LCS a vital element of the U.S. Navy for decades to come. The value of the LCS comes from the inherent capabilities of the vessel, its shallow draft and high speed and from its adaptability. A defining feature of the LCS is its ability to deploy modular force packages tailored to specific missions. In this instance, USS Freedom was outfitted for an interdiction mission. It was equipped with the LCS Surface Warfare Mission Package and embarked Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron (MAREXSECRON) 2 and Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22. LCS 1 and its onboard units conducted simulated boarding exercises and even participated in the sinking of a target ship.
Both LCS 1 and LCS 2, the USS Independence, will open up new opportunities for naval collaboration between the U.S. and its allies, particularly in the Pacific region. Its modular design will allow the LCS to rapidly switch between the currently planned set of surface warfare, ASW and mine countermeasure missions. Clearly, the inherent flexibility of the LCS design will allow for other combinations of capabilities to be deployed, such as air and missile defense, shore bombardment, humanitarian assistance and air and sea surveillance.
Equally important, both LCS variants offer the potential to equip foreign navies. In the past, U.S. Navy ships have been too expensive and even too capable for all but the richest and most sophisticated foreign navies to procure. LCS will be relatively less expensive and possesses the virtue of an open architecture that will enable foreign navies to customize the ship to meet their needs. There is a tremendous value also to foreign navies operating the same platforms and weapons systems as the U.S. Navy.
RIMPAC 2010 is a demonstration both of the power of collaborative defense efforts and a clear reminder of the central role the United States, in general, and the U.S. Navy, in particular, play in maintaining the peace and stability of the Pacific region. As defense budgets tighten both for the U.S. and many friendly nations, collaboration in regional security will only grow more important. So too will the ability of the United States to provide its friends and allies with the military equipment they need to defend themselves and help secure regional peace.
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