Australian, Japanese and US units joined forces on July 12 to sink the decommissioned ex-USS Racine (LST-1191) during a sinking exercise (SINKEX) as part of RIMPAC 2018.
Live fire from aircraft, a submarine, and land assets sank the former landing ship in waters 15,000 feet deep 55 nautical miles north of Kauai, Hawaii.
The SINKEX featured live firing of surface-to-ship missiles by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and a Naval Strike Missile (NSM) from a launcher on the back of a Palletized Load System (PLS) by the US Army. This marks the first time a land-based unit has participated in the live-fire event during RIMPAC.
“Today, we demonstrated the lethality and adaptability of our joint forces in the maritime environment”, said Adm. Phil Davidson, Commander, US Indo-Pacific Command. “As naval forces drive our enemies into the littorals, army forces can strike them. Conversely, when the army drives our enemies out to sea naval firepower can do the same.”
This year was also the first time a Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon aircraft has participated in a SINKEX during RIMPAC.
“With numerous warships, allied submarines, multiple strike aircraft and multi-domain land forces participating, this SINKEX was an extremely valuable part of RIMPAC,” said Royal Canadian Navy Rear Adm. Bob Auchterlonie, deputy commander of the RIMPAC Combined Task Force. “SINKEXs are an important way for us to test our weapons and weapons systems in a way that provides our ships’ companies, our submariners, our aircrews, and our land forces with the most realistic training possible.”
Preparing for SINKEX
Former US Navy vessels used in SINKEXs, referred to as hulks, are prepared in strict compliance with regulations prescribed and enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency under a general permit the US Navy holds pursuant to the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act.
Each SINKEX is required to sink the hulk in at least 1,000 fathoms (6,000 feet) of water and at least 50 nautical miles from land. Surveys are conducted to ensure that people and marine mammals are not in an area where they could be harmed during the event.
Prior to the vessel being transported for participation in a SINKEX, each vessel is put through a rigorous cleaning process, including the removal of all polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), transformers and large capacitors, all small capacitors to the greatest extent practical, trash, floatable materials, mercury or fluorocarbon-containing materials and readily detachable solid PCB items. Petroleum is also cleaned from tanks, piping and reservoirs.
A U.S. Navy environmental, safety and health manager and a quality assurance supervisor inspect the environmental remediation conducted in preparation of a vessel’s use in a SINKEX. Upon completion of the environmental remediation, the manager and supervisor provide signed certification of the work in accordance with EPA requirements.
Ex-Racine was the second ship to bear the name of the Wisconsin city. The ship was the 13th of 20 ships of the improved Newport-class of Landing Ship, Tank (LST) built to replace the traditional LSTs of World War II. Throughout Racine’s 22 years of service, the ship conducted several Western Pacific deployments including one during the Vietnam War where Racine provided troop and material transport.
Chinese spy ship off Hawaii
As was the case with earlier iterations of RIMPAC, which the US Navy describes as the world’s largest international maritime exercise, China has deployed a surveillance ship off the coast of Hawaii to monitor the exercise. According to reports, the auxiliary general intelligence ship belongs to the same class of ship China sent to monitor the 2014 edition of the exercise.
China was disinvited from RIMPAC 2018 in May this year. The Pentagon said the decision was part of the US response to China’s actions in the South China Sea and its militarization of artificial islands.
China’s participation in the maritime drill had been disputed in 2016 according to media reports which said US officials called on Barrack Obama to ban China from participating in the exercise. Despite the reports, China took part in RIMPAC 2016 with one missile destroyer, a missile frigate, a supply ship, a hospital ship and a submarine rescue vessel.
The official presence of navy ships in the exercise did not prevent China from sending spy ships to observe US Navy and other ally ships during the maneuvers in 2016.
Twenty-five nations, 46 ships, five submarines, and more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 27 to Aug. 2 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. RIMPAC 2018 is the 26th exercise in the series that began in 1971.