The audio file for this briefing is available here.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Dubai Regional Media Hub. I’d like to welcome our participants dialing in from the Asia Pacific region and around the world for this on-the-record briefing on RIMPAC 2022 with RIMPAC Commander Vice Admiral Michael Boyle, U.S. Navy, and Deputy Commander Rear Admiral Christopher Robinson, Royal Canadian Navy. The admirals will be speaking from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, near the conclusion of RIMPAC 2022, the world’s premier combined and joint international maritime exercise which runs from June 29 to August 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and southern California.
I will now turn it over to Vice Admiral Boyle and Rear Admiral Robinson for their opening remarks. Sirs, the floor is yours.
VICE ADMIRAL BOYLE: All right. Well, thank you. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening to all of you. I – first of all, I’m Vice Admiral Mike Boyle, the 3rd Fleet Commander. I’d like to just start by saying thank you all for being with us, thank you for what you do, thank you for helping us get the message of the good work that we do here to build interchangeability and interoperability across the joint and combined force. By getting that word out, you’re really doing a service to all of us.
I thought I’d also start by just giving you a couple minutes of background about what the 3rd Fleet Commander is. As the 3rd Fleet Commander, I am one of the two three-star operational commanders aligned under U.S. Pacific Fleet, and my area of responsibility is typically from the International Date Line to the coast of the United States. I’ve got a couple roles. My first role is to be ready to respond to natural disasters in other national – U.S. national emergencies. And you would think forest fires, earthquakes, floods, anything like that that might need the help of the U.S. military, I would be responsible for that in the United States on the West Coast of America, to include Hawaii.
My second role is to certify United States naval forces that are going forward. And so we have a large training apparatus, as you might expect, that prepares those forces to go forward on deployment and be utilized however the geographic combatant commands might think they need to be utilized. But before they leave, someone has to sign the bottom line that they are ready to go, and myself and my staff do that as my second role.
Then my third role is to be one of the two operational commanders under U.S. Pacific Fleet, and by that I mean if there was any kind of crisis or conflict that were to occur in the Pacific AOR, I would work directly for Admiral Paparo as a warfighting operational commander. So I have to be ready to do that.
So moving on to RIMPAC, this year’s theme is “Capable and Adaptive Partners.” And I think it’s very fitting because the nations who have sent forces, sent equipment, have come here to learn, are already capable. There is a lot of capability no matter which navy or air force has sent forces to participate, or army for that matter. What I tell the forces here when I speak to them is that you’re going to learn some things; you’re probably going to be more capable when you leave. But more important than being more capable is that you’re going to be confident because you’re going to be able to judge yourself against the other forces that are here as you operate together. And so when you are able to judge yourself against another force, you can see that you’ve got real capability already – that already exists within your unit. And so by understanding where you are, filling in some of the gaps with the training that we did here in RIMPAC, you go home with a lot of confidence.
As far as the adaptive piece of RIMPAC goes, we really tried to make RIMPAC not scripted. Sometimes RIMPAC in the past has been – there’s a schedule of events: on day one this will happen, on day two this will happen, on day three this will happen. The last five or six days of the exercise was really a little bit of free play, and by “free play” I mean we let the environment and those who were acting as hostile forces in the exercise determine how the scenario would unfold. And that gave an opportunity for all of the forces to have to kind of think through – I don’t know what’s going to happen today or tomorrow, and that type of learning will make us better postured to handle any kind of situation, whether it’s a humanitarian assistance/disaster response scenario all the way up to some sort of crisis to where we’re looking for each other’s help.
And then finally, partners. It’s the most visible part of RIMPAC. We came together five weeks ago as a bunch of individual nations with a common purpose, with a common set of values, but we don’t necessarily know each other personally. And so RIMPAC allows us to build personal relationships with those that we might operate with some day in the future. And I can tell you from experience when there is a crisis – a typhoon, an earthquake, whatever the case may be – if you can pick up the phone and call someone that you have exercised with in the past and say, “Remember me? I was your shipmate at RIMPAC. I could really use your help,” or even better yet, you pick up the phone and call one of your friends because you know they need your help without them even asking, and are able to offer it to them while using their first name and remembering the work you did together at RIMPAC.
So I think I will stop there and turn it over to Admiral Chris Robinson, who is the deputy of the combined task force for RIMPAC. Thank you.
REAR ADMIRAL ROBINSON: Thank you, sir. Aloha, everyone. As the admiral said, my name is Rear Admiral Chris Robinson and I’m with the Royal Canadian Navy. Back home I am the Pacific Canadian armed forces joint commander.
I’d like to begin by thanking everyone who has taken the time to join us on this call today for your interest in covering Exercise Rim of the Pacific 2022, or RIMPAC 2022. For more than 50 years, we’ve been coming together as allies and partners to participate in this exercise, and collectively, over that time, literally for half a century, our partner nations have helped to build RIMPAC into the world’s premier combined and joint international maritime exercise.
Part of what makes RIMPAC so valuable is its design. We got together more than 18 months ago to start talking about what each of our participating nations wanted to achieve in RIMPAC 2022. And in the subsequent months we’ve built an exercise that would enable everyone to achieve those objectives. In some cases, this has meant building new capabilities; in others, it has meant refining skills; and in others still, it has meant taking on new challenges – such as having Republic of Korea Rear Admiral Sang-min Ahn, serving for the first time as the commander of RIMPAC’s amphibious task force, or seeing the Republic of Singapore Navy Colonel COL Kwan Hon Chuong serve as the sea combat commander. Or having Australian amphibious ship HMAS Canberra embark two U.S. Marine Corps NB-22 Osprey aircraft for the duration of impact, advancing efforts to integrate both nations’ amphibious forces, or having Royal Malaysian Navy Ship KD Lekir conduct their first live missile firing outside of Malaysian waters as part of our first SINKEX (sinking exercise). These are but a few concrete examples of what we’ve been able to build into the exercise to make it such an incredibly valuable training opportunity for each of our nations.
And there was a dividend to this: By coming together in this way, with these members and in this scale, we’re making a statement about our commitment to work together, to foster and sustain these relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of our sea lanes and promoting security on the world’s interconnected oceans. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, Admirals, for those opening remarks. And we will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.
So our first question is from our live queue, and it goes to Jeong Eun Lee from RFA in Seoul, Korea. Operator, please open the line.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Do you hear me?
REAR ADMIRAL ROBINSON: Yes.
QUESTION: Hello? Okay. Well, this is Jeong Eun Lee of Radio Free Asia. And there are some mounting tensions in East Asia right now, namely on the Korean Peninsula due to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, and around the Taiwan Strait. So do you think the large-scale international exercises like RIMPAC are conducive to deterring or preparing for possible escalations in these regions?
VICE ADMIRAL BOYLE: Jeong, thank you for that question. I think I’m going to answer it like this: the – to me the beauty of RIMPAC and the most impactful part of RIMPAC happens on the very first day. Because on the very first day of RIMPAC, nations from – navies from 26 nations show up in Hawaii together. And they show up together because they are likeminded nations. They have the same values. They have overlapping national objectives. And when I talk about interchangeability and interoperability, I’ll take a minute to define that here because we often talk about being interoperable as a multinational force.
And when we’re talking about interoperable, we’re talking about ability for the radios to talk to each other, for the data links to connect with each other, for our tactics, techniques, and procedures to be – to work together well and not cause friction. But I think there’s another level, and that level to me is interchangeability. And I define that as the space where our national objectives overlap.
So if we start in areas where our national objectives overlap and then work within that space, we can not only work interoperability between the force, but we can amplify whatever message our nations are trying to send. And so by coming together, I do believe it’s a deterrent to anyone who would try to challenge the current rules-based order that has made us so prosperous as part of a free and open Indo-Pacific. By coming together as this group of nations, we’re not just talking about being like-minded; we are demonstrating – we are the manifestation of likeminded nations by sending – by committing forces and the money that it takes to have us come together here in Hawaii. Does that answer your question?
MODERATOR: I think we may have – the journalist may be back on mute, so why don’t we go on, and then we’ll see if we need to come back on that topic. So our next question is going to go to Kevin Knodell from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Operator, please open the line.
QUESTION: All right. Can everybody hear me?
VICE ADMIRAL BOYLE: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Good afternoon, Admiral. Last time we spoke, you had – you were starting to say something about kind of logistics and distributed feeling the region post Red Hill, but you got kind of cut off when we were talking last time, so you didn’t get to finish what you were saying. And I was hoping maybe you could expand a little bit on what logistics look like during this exercise and what lessons it has for the future with the vision of distributed feeling that we’ve kind of been talking about over the last few months.
VICE ADMIRAL BOYLE: How about I let Admiral Robinson take a shot at this, and then I’ll fill in with any amplifying remarks after he’s gone?
REAR ADMIRAL ROBINSON: Hey, this is Admiral Robinson here. So the logistics – the sustainment of the force at sea today for this exercise really followed a classic naval model in that we did the replenishment at sea primarily as our main method of transferring fuel and supplies to the ships. So we had a logistics force commander, an Australian in this case, who led a team of ships that went out, and they resupplied ships. They transferred food. It’s actually a remarkably difficult activity to do for two ships to come alongside in any weather condition at very close proximity, maintain that specified distance alongside of each other, and transfer fuel, transfer stores, transfer personnel in some cases. So I wouldn’t say that we learned new things as much as we perfected the skills that each nation had brought to do that already.
VICE ADMIRAL BOYLE: And then I’ll just add on top of that, a couple points specific to Red Hill. As I know you’re aware, we have used Red Hill in the past during RIMPAC, but we did not use Red Hill at all during this RIMPAC. And the silver lining was exactly what Admiral Robinson just laid out – is it forced us to hone those at-sea skills that will be required.
Another thing that we were able to hone is the transfer of fuel from CONSOL tankers, which are big civilian fuel ships, to our replenishment ships at sea. So that kind of takes away some of the requirements for fixed site logistics like Red Hill because we’re able to do that from a mobile platform, a more survivable platform at sea. So we take whatever cards we’re dealt, and we look for the silver linings. And in this case, we really did move our capability and our proficiency at refueling at sea for all of our partner nations to a new height.
REAR ADMIRAL ROBINSON: Hey, it’s Admiral Robinson. Just one follow-up point. I realize – I recognize that the Australians commanded that task force, but I should also flag that it was truly a multinational group in that there was an Australian supply ship, a New Zealand supply ship, and two American supply ships making up that task force. Over.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, Admiral. So our next question does come from the live question queue, and it’s to Dzirhan Mahadzir from Malaysia’s USNI News. Operator, please open the line.
QUESTION: Right. Thank you for the time, admirals. I’d like to – I know it’s early days, but I’d like to ask you, what have been the lessons learned from RIMPAC and what areas do you see that you need to focus on in regard to the conduct of the outcome of the exercise? And just a short one also, what has been the impact of USBs in the exercise? Thank you.
VICE ADMIRAL BOYLE: Okay. I think I’ll take the first half of that question and allow Admiral Robinson to take the USB portion of that question. I think the biggest lesson from this RIMPAC was our focus on being more adaptive – more adaptable and so having a less scripted program and a less scripted design. And what that did for us – the scripted allows us to really enhance tactical training between tactical units: ships, submarines, airplanes, et cetera. But by being unscripted, it now allows us to get training in more of the leadership roles. So if you are the commander of a task group, if you are the commander of a task force, or if you are the commander of the CFMCC or the CFACC, the Combined Force Maritime Component Commander or the Combined Force Air Component Commander, having to think through an unpredictable program forces you to think like you would have to in crisis. And that’s any crisis, whether it’s humanitarian assistance or conflict.
And so that I think is probably one of the biggest lessons that we got out of this RIMPAC, so moving forward is to continue to evolve that understanding of how we plug into an unscripted – or an unscripted command and control structure and continue to refine that part of RIMPAC.
REAR ADMIRAL ROBINSON: Hey, it’s Admiral Robinson here. I will make, I guess, a couple of points about autonomous vehicles and un-crewed systems.
First, part of RIMPAC is being capable and adaptive, and the seascape is changing on the way combat systems are put to sea. So autonomous vehicles and remotely piloted vehicles are here to stay, and I would say that we’ve really moved the yardstick, particularly using them here, to the point where the discussion is no longer about the autonomous capability to of the ships to avoid collision and the AI involved in that, and it’s more about the payloads that they bring, the capabilities that they bring, the really different ways that they can be employed. And every time I talk to someone about these vessels, that was really where the conversation went. No one was talking – like, 10 years ago we would have been talking: how do you avoid a collision at sea with these? It really was about the capabilities, so I would say that was a big win.
Circling back to your sort of overall premise of the question, by being a biannual exercise we harvest those lessons learned fairly formally. So we spent most of this morning talking that through at a high level, and over the next couple of days we will gather those lessons, and that goes into building the next exercise that will happen in ’24. So we’ve already sort of sketched out some ideas that we’ve learned, some improvements that we’d like to make, and that will feature in the ’24 series. Over.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you. So our next question is a pre-submitted question, and it comes from Christopher Woody from Washington, D.C.’s Insider. And he asks: “Sinking exercises have been a consistent feature of recent RIMPACs. Can you say how this year’s SINKEX was unique compared to previous iterations and describe what insights participants wanted to gain from this year’s version?” Over to you, gentlemen.
VICE ADMIRAL BOYLE: Well, there were a lot of firsts on this year’s SINKEX. I would say one of the most visible was the integration of MQ-9, the unmanned air platform, so a U.S. Air Force platform integrated into a joint and combined force with the video feed shared in an unclassified network real-time with the participants, which allowed the chief of the Malaysian navy to watch his missile from his ship hit in real time, which was really significant. You think about that that – you watch movies and you assume that just happens all the time. But it doesn’t happen and it’s hard to do, and it’s hard to push that type of information, especially over unclassified networks. So that was a first.
We executed – we talk about kill webs or kill chains. And when we talk about kill webs or kill chains, we’re talking about the entire process from finding a target to determining its coordinates to then determining what type of weapon can reach it, to guiding a weapon to that spot, all the way until the weapon impacts. And so we executed multiple different kill chains at multiple classifications through multiple different organic national processes simultaneously. I think it’s the first time we’ve done that where we’ve had low-end kill chains, where a local ship can see and sense the target and put a weapon on to the target, to higher-end kill chains, where coordinates are being passed from offboard sensors over the horizon to a platform that may or may not be able to see the target and sending it downrange being guided by a different platform. So that difference in complexity from the lowest end to the highest end happening simultaneously against a single target is really, I would say, unique.
More multidomain than we’ve seen in the past with fires coming from the land, with the Japanese targeting via the Japanese ground defense force from the air through multiple platforms with the Australian P-8 firing their first harpoon from a P-8, from surface vessels, from containerized surface vessel platforms. And so just multiple different kill chains with multiple delivery vehicles from all nations simultaneously – that is what I would say is unique.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, sir. Our next question is from the live queue and it goes to Quoc Dat Duong from Vietnam’s Zing News. Operator, please open the line.
VICE ADMIRAL BOYLE: Hello.
QUESTION: Yes, hi. First I want thank you for doing this. And my question is, so after RIMPAC, how do you feel about the future of unmanned ships? Can they be more utilized in case of crisis? Thank you.
VICE ADMIRAL BOYLE: Well, I think I’m going to repeat the answer that Admiral Robinson gave earlier, which is in this RIMPAC we really did not worry about the unmanned systems by itself. We did not worry about collisions. We did not worry about losing control. We did not worry about it operating within the formation of other ships for extended periods of time. So that shows how mature unmanned systems have become.
We, this time, operated with multiple different packages from logistics packages to transport gear from the West Coast of the United States to Hawaii, from ASW packages to search for submarines with active sonar being towed from an unmanned surface vessel, to sensors that are either listening for the electromagnetic spectrum and then passing that information over a complex communications network. So we saw a lot of progress and a lot of areas where we now can focus energy turning these experiments into programs of record.
So for us, that means we will now look to which ones are best of breed, which ones we might fund, and how they might be integrated into the force moving forward. So I think we’re beyond the question of will they ever be here. They’re definitely going to be here. RIMPAC allowed us to mature the technology.
And I’ll add that we integrated the MQ-9 Reaper, an Air Force platform that has been flying for probably 30 years, and so it was an opportunity for us to see what a mature platform looks like being controlled by pilots in Nevada of the USA in the Hawaiian op area, and then hand it off to another pilot sitting in a trailer in Hawaii that would execute the takeoff and the landing.
And so they have been operating within the same airspace as manned aircraft doing multiple missions and now determining how they integrate with the joint and combined force. So all of those things point to the answer to your question is RIMPAC continues to move the ball in experimentation, and we will see unmanned vessels just like we see unmanned air platforms and have for a long time.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, sir. We have time for one last question, and that last question is going to go to Miu Ling Chan from Taiwan’s Radio Free Asia. Operator, please open the line.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
VICE ADMIRAL BOYLE: We can hear you, yes.
QUESTION: Yes, thanks for letting me ask a question because we want to know that – about Taiwan’s situation now with the PLA now they have the military exercise, the large military exercise just nearby the island. And then how do you comment on the Taiwan situation and this? Do you think that next time can you invite Taiwan to join the RIMPAC?
VICE ADMIRAL BOYLE: I think the answer to that question is that we welcome likeminded partners to join RIMPAC, but who we are able to send an invitation to is a matter of policy that is determined at the highest levels within the United States Government. So I hope that doesn’t sound like a cop-out, but the reality is as it will be determined by someone other than any of us here at this table.
But when the permission is given, we welcome the opportunity to have Taiwan participate, as we welcome all other likeminded partners that participate in RIMPAC.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, sir. And now Vice Admiral Boyle and Rear Admiral Robinson, if you have any closing remarks, I’ll turn it back over to you.
REAR ADMIRAL ROBINSON: Hey, it’s Admiral Robinson again. One, I’d just like to start where I started my opening comments and thank you all for participating today. I would say that by coming together as capable, adaptive partners and in the scale that we did, we are making a statement about our commitment to work together and sustain these relationships that are really critical to maintaining the safety of the sea lanes, security of the world, interconnected oceans, and all of that kind of stuff.
We came into this exercise with an objective – to not hurt anyone, to not hurt anything, to protect the environment, and to achieve the national goals of all 26 participating nations. And I would say we’ve been pretty successful on that. Even in today’s age where the pandemic is still a factor, we managed that. We fought through it. And I think we had a very successful RIMPAC 2022.
I would close with my final round of thanks, and that is to the U.S. Navy for being such excellent hosts and facilitating us training in this fabulous area. Over.
VICE ADMIRAL BOYLE: Again, I’ll finish probably where I started, but I think I’d also like to just tell a quick RIMPAC story. So thank you for what you all do and thank you for telling the story. But to give you a visual of what RIMPAC means to me, on one of the days of RIMPAC before the ships went to sea, I was walking down a pier and I saw three RIMPAC participants standing together, and it was a Canadian and a French sailor and a Chilean sailor all standing together on the pier.
And I asked them what they were talking about, and they were talking about how to operate Link 22. Link 22 is a datalink system that connects ships together. It’s sometimes known as the NATO Link. Both France and Canada are founding members of the Link 22 operating on their ships, and Chile had just installed it on their ship. And what they were talking about was Chile was having trouble getting the link to work correctly in the first day of RIMPAC at the pier, and we just by chance had the two most experienced Link 22 ships parked across the way, and the three of them standing on the pier discussing techniques to make it operate.
And by the end of that day and certainly by the time they were underway, all three ships were up and stable using Link 22. And that to me is just a small example of the benefit of coming together, of operating together, because we are likeminded, and when we need to operate together in crisis. We already know how to do it. We don’t have to learn those lessons. We’re learning them during RIMPAC.
And we have – my goal for this RIMPAC was that everybody learn and go back with confidence and maybe some skills that they didn’t have, and I can tell you without doubt that that has happened for every participant from every nation whether they brought equipment or they rode on someone else’s ships like Sri Lanka, or they came with just staff members like Israel, or they brough a whole host of ships like maybe South Korea, Canada, Australia, and Japan. So again, the RIMPAC has been extremely successful. We’re very happy with the execution. We’re very happy with the safety. But we’re extremely happy that everyone is going home with relationships, partners that they’ve met, and confidence.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. That’s a great way to conclude today’s call. I would like to thank RIMPAC Commander Vice Admiral Michael Boyle, U.S. Navy, and Deputy Commander Rear Admiral Christopher Robinson, Royal Canadian Navy, for joining us, and I thank all of our callers for participating today. If you have any questions about today’s call, you can contact the Dubai Regional Media Hub at DubaiMediaHub@state.gov. Information on how to access a recording of this call will be provided AT&T shortly. Thank you and have a great day.
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