The 2022 edition of the world’s largest naval war games, the Rim of the Pacific exercises, will feature key US partners from around the globe, including India, Japan and Australia – who have joined Washington in the Quad group – and five nations bordering on the South China Sea, one of the world’s most turbulent areas for military tensions.
In total, the exercises, based in Honolulu and San Diego, will see military units from 26 countries participating from June 29 to August 4. They’ll employ 38 surface ships, four submarines and 170 aircraft in the exercises, the US Navy’s 3rd Fleet said in a statement on Tuesday. Around 25,000 personnel will participate, including ground troops from nine countries.
A “free and open Indo-Pacific” has been a US mantra as China has been building up its forces and expanding its reach in the region, including militarizing islands in the South China Sea, almost all of which it claims as its sovereign territory.
Three nations with competing claims to China’s – the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei – will take part in RIMPAC 2022. Indonesia, which borders the South China Sea and has seen recent maritime tensions with China, will also take part, as will Singapore, which sits at the southwestern entrance to the 1.3 million-square-mile sea.
Meanwhile, the Quad countries – the United States, India, Japan and Australia – have been deepening military cooperation as all have seen increasing competition with China around the region.
The four countries have held two naval exercises since 2020. Meanwhile, their leaders have assembled four times since last year – including at in-person summits at the White House last September and more recently on May 24 in Tokyo.
The exercises will include drills focusing on “amphibious operations, gunnery, missile, anti-submarine and air defense exercises, as well as counter-piracy operations, mine clearance operations, explosive ordnance disposal, and diving and salvage operations,” the US Navy said.
“RIMPAC 2022 contributes to the increased interoperability, resiliency and agility needed … to deter and defeat aggression by major powers across all domains and levels of conflict.
“During RIMPAC, a network of capable, adaptive partners train and operate together in order to strengthen their collective forces and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, has decried the grouping as an Asian “NATO,” accusing it of “trumpeting the Cold War mentality” and “stoking geopolitical rivalry.”
RIMPAC 2022 also includes Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga and the United Kingdom.
Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, said besides the military value, the RIMPAC lineup shows the political clout Washington maintains worldwide.
“It signifies the strength and breadth of America’s global maritime partnerships, a very important deterrent signal to any potential aggressors who may believe Washington’s influence and strategic position, especially that of its navy, is in decline.
“RIMPAC’s broad international participation proves that is not the case,” Schuster said.
He also noted the inclusion of the Pacific island nation of Tonga in the exercises at a time when China is making a push to increase its influence among the small countries in the South Pacific.
The upcoming exercises will be the 28th edition of RIMPAC, which began in 1971.