The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been invited to attend next year’s Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC 2018), the U.S. Navy said in a statement on May 29.
“All 26 nations that participated in RIMPAC 2016 have been invited to return for RIMPAC 2018,” Commander Ryan Perry, a spokesman for the U.S. Third Fleet, told Defense News earlier this week.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet-sponsored RIMPAC exercise, the world’s largest international naval exercise, is held biennially in the summer months of even numbered years in waters around the Hawaiian Islands and southern California. The drill usually lasts a couple of weeks.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) granted permission for PLAN representatives to participate in a RIMPAC 2018 planning meeting in June in San Diego, California. Two more such meetings are scheduled prior to the beginning of the naval drill; however, further DoD approvals will be required for China to attend subsequent conferences.
The National Defense Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year 2000 (FY 2000 NDAA) prohibits contacts between China and the United States that can “create a national security risk due to an inappropriate exposure.” The NDAA lists 12 operational areas, ranging from advanced combined-arms and joint combat operations to arms sales or military-related technology transfers, that are prohibited.
Should China accept the invitation it would be the third consecutive time for PLAN ships and personnel to participate in the drill.
In 2016, the PLAN dispatched five ships and 1,200 personnel including an Anwei-class hospital ship, the Daishandao (or Peace Ark); a Fusu-class replenishment ship, the Gaoyao Hu; a Dalao-class submarine rescue ship, the Changdao; and two surface combatant ships, the Luyang II-class guided-missile destroyer Xian and Jiangkai II-class guided-missile frigate Hengshui.
One of the highlights of last year’s Chinese participation was a joint PLAN-U.S. Navy submarine rescue drill. “The practical exercise involved the Dalao (Type 926)-class submarine rescue ship Changdao of the PLAN’s South Sea Fleet and U.S. Navy submariners who, aboard the Changdao, participated in launching a LR7 deep submergence rescue vehicle,” I explained last July.
The PLAN also participated in a forum on providing medical assistance and disaster relief, as well as counterpiracy, diving and salvage, and search and rescue exercises. Russia took part in the exercise in 2012 but has not been invited ever since. During the 2014 and 2016 iterations the Russian Navy dispatched an intelligence ship and a destroyer to shadow RIMPAC participants.
Last year’s five-week long RIMPAC exercise saw the participation of 45 surface ships, five submarines, over 200 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel from 26 countries. RIMPAC drills and exercises cover the entire spectrum of naval operations ranging from disaster response and maritime security operations to sea control and complex warfighting.