It’s Mai Tai time again for many of the world’s navies and some air forces. The month-long, biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise is underway off the Hawaiian Islands once more. RIMPAC has been a constant since 1971, but the exercise has evolved, reflecting changing times and tensions, and for that reason RIMPAC 2018 is worth taking notice of.

RIMPAC began in the second half of the Cold War. Then, the exercise was very much threat-based. “Orange” forces would usually simulate large-scale Soviet-style air attacks on a “Blue” carrier battle group, and there would be significant anti-submarine warfare practice. It would conclude with a US Marine Corps amphibious landing tacked on at the end, to give them some reason to be involved.

It was all high-end stuff that in the main mostly met US Navy Cold War, big-end-of-town warfare purposes. There were the usual complaints associated with large exercises: too highly scripted, not enough free play, and communications dysfunctions. In general, the allies – Australia, Canada, and Japan mostly – were walk-on extras delighted to exercise and learn in a large-scale high-tech arena.

Fast forward to now, and the exercise is more at the low–medium warfare end, concentrating on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and reaching up into limited anti-surface warfare, albeit still with the obligatory amphibious landing added on at the end.

RIMPAC is now considerably more focused on providing training opportunities for the non–US navies. It will help improve interoperability not only between the foreign forces and the US Navy but also between the foreign forces themselves. And this teamwork between unlike navies encompasses more than just the exercise itself. An Indian Shivalik-class frigate, a Singaporean Formidable-class frigate, a Japanese Hyuga-class helicopter carrier, a Philippine strategic sealift vessel, and a Phillipine Navy Gregorio del Pilar–class frigate all trained together en route to Hawaii.

Please click here to read the full “Mai Tai diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific” article at the Lowy Interpreter, written by Griffith Asia Institute Visiting Fellow, Dr Peter Layton.