Navy’s newest amphibious warfare ship may fill flagship role for RIMPAC drills

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — This summer’s Rim of the Pacific naval exercise in Hawaii is expected to include one of the Navy’s newest amphibious warfare vessels as its flagship, the Army firing a Navy missile into the sea and a first-ever innovation fair.

The USS Portland has been chosen tentatively to serve as RIMPAC’s flagship, Capt. Brian Metcalf, the program manager for LPD amphibious warfare vessels, said earlier this month at the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium in Arlington, Virginia, according to USNI News.

However, the final decision on that flagship designation will not be made until a RIMPAC planning meeting in early April, Navy officials said.

The Portland will become the Navy’s 11th San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship after its ceremonial commissioning event scheduled for April in Portland, Oregon.

The ship is slated this fall to be fitted with the next generation of the Navy’s laser weapon system for testing, according to USNI. The previous iteration was tested in the Middle East aboard the USS Ponce.

All 26 nations, including China, that participated in the 2016 RIMPAC have been invited formally to the 2018 biennial international maritime exercise, the world’s largest.

New this year will be the Army’s land-based launching of a Navy missile to sink a ship at sea. The missile will be launched from an Army heavy expanded mobility tactical truck, said Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. Army Pacific spokesman. The missile will be fired from Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, he said.

A Japanese unit also will fire a missile during a sinking exercise, Garver said.

The decommissioned frigate USS McClusky and the retired tank landing ship USS Racine are expected to be used as targets during the sinking exercises, the Navy said.

The Army’s missile drill was prompted by a challenge in 2016 by U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Harry Harris for the Army to operate outside its typical land-based domain, Garver said.

“Simply put, this concept provides us a way to ensure access to the global commons in the run-up to war and [to] fight in those same commons should war come,” Harris said last year of the multidomain battle concept that spawned the coming missile drill. “Components must increase their agility and provide support to each other across the warfighting domains.”

This year’s RIMPAC will continue to build on the growing importance of experimentation during the exercise by holding the first-ever innovation fair at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

The four-day event — slated for June 28 through July 1 — will include exhibitions, displays, contests and special events.But unlike innovation fairs in which vendors and industry officials showcase technology or products for sale, this event is a chance for government offices and government-sponsored academic institutions — both U.S. and foreign — to display and demonstrate technological capabilities they are developing.The displays are intended to focus on port and harbor security, robotics systems, virtual and augmented reality, green energy, disaster relief, among others.