China is out, but Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Brazil and Israel are in for this summer’s Rim of the Pacific naval exercise in Hawaii.
The Navy announced on Wednesday that 26 nations, 47 surface ships, five submarines, 18 national land forces, and more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel will participate in the biennial RIMPAC being held June 27 to Aug. 2.
This would mark the first time Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Brazil and Israel have joined the drills, the Navy said.
Last week, the United States rescinded its invitation to RIMPAC for China, which had participated in 2014 and 2016, bringing several ships and personnel.
Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters that the move was a first step in protesting China’s actions in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China has expanded those islands through dredging, then built infrastructure upon them, some of which is useful only for military operations.
“China’s behavior is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RIMPAC exercise,” Logan said in a statement. “We have strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic jammers to contested features in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea.”
Vietnam’s inclusion in RIMPAC is another major step forward for military relations between two nations that were locked in a long and ugly war 50 years ago. The U.S. views Vietnam as a potential counterbalance to China’s push for dominance in Southeast Asia, particularly the South China Sea.
The U.S. lifted its ban on selling lethal weapons to Vietnam in 2016. A U.S. aircraft carrier made a port visit this spring to Vietnam for the first time.
The other countries participating in RIMPAC are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Tonga and the United Kingdom.
For the first time, New Zealand will serve as Sea Combat Commander, and Chile will serve as Combined Force Maritime Component Commander.
Chile’s role marks the first time a non-founding member of RIMPAC will hold a component commander leadership position.
Other firsts will be the live firing of a Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) from a U.S. Air Force aircraft, surface-to-ship missiles by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, and a Naval Strike Missile from a launcher on the back of a Palletized Load System by the U.S. Army.
A land-based unit has never before participated in a live-fire event during RIMPAC, the Navy said.
Some portions of RIMPAC, which was first held in 1971, are also held in Southern California.
For the first time in 16 years, U.S. 3rd Fleet’s Command Center will relocate from San Diego to Pearl Harbor to support command and control of all 3rd Fleet forces in its area of responsibility, including forces operating forward in the Western Pacific, the Navy said.
For the first part of the exercise, the Fleet Command Center will be established at a Deployable Joint Command and Control on Hospital Point, Pearl Harbor. It will then transition to amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland for the remainder of the exercise, the Navy said.
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