RCN prepares for scaled back RIMPAC exercise

Navy News / July 28, 2020

By Peter Mallett

Despite a world pandemic, two Canadian warships will transit to Hawaii in August for a major training exercise.

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Regina and Winnipeg will represent the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in a scaled-back version of the 27th biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. 

The United States Navy (USN), organizers of RIMPAC, had anticipated this year’s event to be even grander than the most recent one in 2018. They planned more complex scenarios and more participating nations.

However, on March 6, they issued a statement detailing a drastic scaling back of plans due to COVID-19.

RIMPAC 2020 will be an at-sea only event. Both the land and air components of the exercise have been cancelled to minimize international travel and person-to-person contact.

There will be a smaller support staff ashore in Honolulu, Hawaii, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, and limited social events surrounding the exercise.

Commodore (Cmdre) Angus Topshee, Commander Canadian Fleet Pacific, says the RCN is ready to adapt and respond to changes in the world, and that includes the navy’s response to COVID-19 mitigation efforts for RIMPAC. Sailors and aviators will be quarantined prior to the exercise, and COVID-19 testing will be conducted in cooperation with the Government of British Columbia.

“We will continue to review and adapt all our procedures in light of COVID-19 and I have confidence in the flexible and innovative nature of our sailors and aviators to get the job done safely,” said Cmdre Topshee. “I am extremely proud of the fleet’s accomplishments, and the resilience and leadership shown by all Canadian Fleet Pacific personnel throughout this unprecedented pandemic.”

In early August, the ships, with a combined 500 sailors and an embarked Cyclone air detachment each, will sail from Esquimalt, B.C., for the August 17 to 31 exercise off Hawaii. Training scenarios will focus on multinational anti-submarine warfare exercises, maritime interdiction operations, live-fire events and other cooperative opportunities.

“The biennial participation in this high-end exercise with the United States and allies from across Indo-Pacific highlights our commitment to working collaboratively on security and defence issues across this vital strategic region,” said Cmdre Topshee.

Preparing for RIMPAC

Once RIMPAC was given the green light by the USN, a virtual planning conference was held in early May with weekly reviews, ending in a final virtual planning conference June 30.

“All of this was an effort to plan an exercise that normally takes over a year with various in-person meetings with partner nations,” explained Captain (Navy) (Capt(N)) Robinson, RIMPAC Task Group Commander.

Regina, Winnipeg and Canadian Fleet Pacific Headquarters staff have been conducting months of training to prepare for the summer exercise.

Regina recently completed high-readiness collective training off the coast of B.C. with the assistance of Sea Training (Pacific). Winnipeg will embark Sea Training (Pacific) staff to complete high-readiness training en route to Hawaii.

“The training will continue throughout RIMPAC,” said Capt(N) Robinson. “Sea Training (Pacific) will be working closely with USN units to ensure they are able to achieve their specific training objectives concurrently to Winnipeg’s participation in RIMPAC.”

To achieve success at sea, the ships’ teams conducted a series of collective training events alongside. Both ships completed damage control team training, casualty clearing team training and operations team training.

Following the release of findings after the Cyclone helicopter crash in the Ionian Sean off Greece in late April, Royal Canadian Air Force pilots have conducted additional ground and simulator training, and have resumed flying on the West Coast. Final force generation activities will take place locally in Esquimalt and on board HMCS Calgary at sea, prior to their joining Winnipeg and Regina.

What to expect at RIMPAC

RIMPAC is usually conducted in four distinct phases: Harbour Phase, Schedule of Events Phase, Force Integration Training Phase and Free Play Phase.

In order to reduce shore-based contingents both the Harbour Phase and Free Play Phase have been eliminated.

The Schedule of Events phase involves an active two-week structured training program that will include multinational anti-submarine warfare, maritime interdiction operations and live-fire events.

The exercise will conclude with a short Force Integration Phase that will involve the ships working together in larger groups to practise coordinated war fighting skills.

Both Winnipeg and Regina will conduct missile firings. They are in the process of completing missile readiness training alongside and at sea. Winnipeg will fire Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles and torpedoes, while Regina will fire a Harpoon to sink a target as part of a larger exercise with multiple units called a sinking exercise (SINKEX).