Rimpac 2022: the most important U.S. manoeuvre in the Pacific

Philippine navy frigate BRP Antonio Luna (FF 151) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to participate in the 2022 Rim of the Pacific (Rimpac) exercise (Credits: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Maria G. Llanos, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 21 Issue 3
Author: Riccardo Rossi

From June 29th, 2022, to August 4th, 2022, the United States, in cooperation with twenty-five partner countries,[1] is conducting the Rim of the Pacific (Rimpac) exercise in the geo-maritime space between the Hawaiian archipelago and Southern California.[2] A large air-naval force comprising thirty-eight surface units, including the USS Abraham Lincoln battle group,[3] four attack submarines, thirty UAV systems, around 170 aircraft and more than 25,000 personnel are taking part in the exercise.[4]

Among the framework of Rimpac 2022, Washington has organised several training activities (naval bombardment operations, missile launching, anti-submarine procedures, seabed demining, combat search and rescue and maritime power projection),[5] to enhance interoperability between the U.S. Navy, Amy, Marines and Airforce and the armed forces of allied countries part of the Asia-Pacific region.

The Geostrategic importance of Rimpac 2022

The United States attributes Rimpac 2022, like the military manoeuvres Balikatan 2022 and Valiant Shield 22,[6] a central role in containing the growing political and economic influence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the Asia-Pacific, especially in the China Sea bordered to the west by the Asian coastline and the east by the first island chain.[7]

Washington, in this geo-maritime space, focuses most of its attention on the PRC’s territories of geopolitical interest, such as the Korean peninsula, the island of Taiwan and especially the maritime straits of Korea, Miyako, Taiwan, Luzon and Malacca.

The Xi Jinping presidency considers the restrictions mentioned above to be strategically vital for national security for two main reasons:

1) The straits of Korea, Miyako, Taiwan, Luzon and Malacca are obligatory checkpoints for the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOC) that interconnect China’s economic-industrial system to the most important shipping lanes of the South China Sea and represent:

«An estimated 21 per cent of global trade passes through the SCS, which was the equivalent of $3.4 trillion as of 2016. Over 64 per cent of China’s maritime trade by value travels through the SCS, making it pivotal to China’s economic and therefore national security. Beyond China, however, the SCS is also of pivotal economic and security importance to the USA, Japan, South Korea and the major economies of Europe».[8]

2) The People’s Republic of China considers the sea routes through the Straits of Malacca, Luzon and Taiwan essential for the realisation of the 21st-century maritime silk road (MSR) project, aimed at interconnecting the national economy to the world’s most important markets: Africa, Europe and America.[9]

In the face of these maritime restrictions, the Xi Jinping presidency has progressively increased military resources in its coastal areas close to these straits.[10] One example is the expansion of the Eastern Theater Command (ETC), to which the Xi Jinping administration assigns the immediate task of supervising the island of Formosa and, in the medium to long term to impose military control in Taiwanese waters through sea denial. Beijing speculates that this strategy is possible by synergistically employing the missile and air-naval instrument, denying the U.S. Seventh Fleet deployed in Yokosuka (Japan) access to the maritime space adjacent to the island of Taipei.[11] The PRC could find itself in the situation:

«Possessing Taiwan would enable one to effectively control the strategic choke points between the East Sea and the South Sea. Possessing Taiwan opens an advantageous waterway to the interior seas of the second island chain while opening a convenient path to the high seas».[12]

Beijing would gain a crucial strategic advantage in protecting its maritime trade flows through the China Sea and to major American, African and European port hubs.[13]

This Chinese attempt to impose military control in the Taiwan Strait and along the First Island Chain has led the U.S. to increase its diplomatic-military presence in support of key Asia-Pacific countries, including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines.

This assessment is confirmed by President Biden’s decision to visit the Rising Sun and the Republic of Korea in May 2022[14] and increase training manoeuvres (as was the case with Balikatan 2022 and Valiant Shield 22 and Rimpac 2022 currently underway) and the personnel available to the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM), which can now count on:

«Approximately 375,000 U.S. military and civilian personnel are assigned to the USINDOPACOM area of responsibility. U.S. Pacific Fleet consists of approximately 200 ships (to include five aircraft carrier strike groups), nearly 1,100 aircraft, and more than 130,000 Sailors and civilians dedicated to protecting our mutual security interests. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific includes two Marine Expeditionary Forces and about 86,000 personnel and 640 assigned aircraft. U.S. Pacific Air Forces comprises of approximately 46,000 airmen and civilians and more than 420 aircraft. U.S. Army Pacific has approximately 106,000 personnel from one corps and two divisions, plus over 300 aircraft and five watercraft assigned throughout the AOR from Japan and Korea to Alaska and Hawaii. Of note, component command personnel numbers include more than 1,200 Special Operations personnel».[15]

The United States, through its USINDOPACOM command, headquartered at Camp H. M. Smith (Hawaii) and with important outposts on the island of Guam[16] and in Japan, has the necessary capabilities to protect its geopolitical interests in the Asia-Pacific region. These can be briefly summarised in three main points.

1) Defending Taiwan Island from possible Chinese aggression (which would involve the territories of the Rising Sun) and the Republic of Korea from the nuclear policy promoted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.[17]

2) Ensure the protection of the Sea Lines of maritime communications that pass through the Asia-Pacific region, with particular attention to the Malacca, Luzon, and Taiwan bottlenecks, which are obligatory passages of the Malacca route, one of the most important routes for the international market.

3) Support Japan in its dispute against Beijing for control of the oil and gas energy fields in the East China Sea, which represent indispensable resources for Tokyo to satisfy the energy demand of its industrial apparatus partially.[18]

Conclusions

For the United States, the Rimapac 2022 manoeuvre, like the previous Balikatan 2022 and Valiant Shield 22 exercises, constitutes, together with the maintenance of diplomatic dialogue with the Asia-Pacific countries, an indispensable piece in the implementation of the containment policy against the increasing assertiveness of the People’s Republic of China, in the vicinity of the first island chain.

Against this assessment, it is possible to speculate that in the coming months, based on the PRC’s military-political moves, assisted by the Russian Federation,[19] Washington will respond by planning new exercises in the East and the South China Sea.

Overall, this phenomenon will increase the level of Sino-United States militarisation in the waters of the China Sea, escalating tensions between the two countries as occurred on April 12th, 2022, with a close encounter between a U.S. Airforce F-35 and a People’s Liberation Army Air Force J-20.[20]

In turn, the increase of disagreements between Beijing and Washington could destabilise the industrial-financial system of the Asia-Pacific region, involving the economically advanced countries (Japan, South Korea and Australia) interconnected with the economic apparatus of the People’s Republic of China.

Sources

[1] The countries participating in the Rimpac 2022 exercise are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, the United Kingdom and the United States. For more details see   Mahadzir.D, (2022), RIMPAC 2022 Kicks Off in Hawaii With 21 Partner Nation Ships, Retrieved from: https://news.usni.org/2022/06/29/rimpac-2022-kicks-off-in-hawaii-with-21-partner-nation-ships

[2] Ibid.

[3] A carrier strike group comprises:  […]A nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which also serves as the flagship for the CSG commander and his/her staff; A carrier air wing (CVW) typically consisting of up to nine squadrons; One to two Aegis guided missile cruisers[…]; A destroyer squadron (DESRON) with two to three guided missile destroyers (DDG)[…] Up to two nuclear-powered SSNs […]; and A combined ammunition, oiler and supply ship (AOE/AOR)[…]. Cf. Kiley. G, Szechenyi. N, (2012), U.S. Force Posture Strategy in the Asia Pacific Region: An Independent Assessment, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC, p.74

[4] U.S. Navy Office of Information, (2022), Rimpac 2022 officially begins, Retrieved from: https://www.navy.mil/Press-Office/Press-Releases/display-pressreleases/Article/3079745/rimpac-2022-officially-begins/

[5] Ministry of Defence (MOD), (2018), Joint Doctrine Publication 0-10UK Maritime Power (5th Edition), Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC), p.45

[6] Riccardo Rossi, (2022) The US Valiant Shield 22 exercise: a warning to Beijing, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Vol 20 (16), SpecialEurasia, Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/06/21/us-valiant-shield-beijing/

[7] Burke. E, Heath. T, Hornung. J, Ma. L, Morris. L, Chase. M, (2018), China’s Military Activities in the East China Sea Implications for Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, Calif.

[8] Ghiasy. R, Su. F, Saalman. L, (2018) The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Security Implications And Ways Forward For The European Union, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

[9] Riccardo Rossi, (2022) The Asian coast and its geopolitical influence in the China Dream, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Vol 16 (3), SpecialEurasia, Retrieved from:  https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/02/15/asia-coast-china-dream/

[10] Ibid.

[11] Riccardo Rossi, (2021) The Sino-US military confrontation for control of the island of Taiwan, Geopolitical Report 2785-2598 Vol 13 (1), SpecialEurasia, Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2021/11/02/il-confronto-militare-sino-statunitense-per-il-controllo-dellisola-di-taiwan/.

[12]Jie. L. (2001), The ‘island chain’ that ties up China, Modern Ships 2001, cited by Yoshihara. T, (2012) China’s Vision of Its Seascape:the First Island Chain and Chinese Seapower, Wiley Periodicals, Asian Politics & Policy, Pages 293-314

[13] Riccardo Rossi, (2021) The Sino-US military confrontation for control of the island of Taiwan, Geopolitical Report 2785-2598 Vol 13 (1), SpecialEurasia, Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2021/11/02/il-confronto-militare-sino-statunitense-per-il-controllo-dellisola-di-taiwan/

[14] Riccardo Rossi, (2022) Analysis of President Biden’s visits to Japan and South Korea, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 20 (6), SpecialEurasia, Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/06/06/us-biden-japan-south-korea/

[15]United States Indo-Pacific Command, Headquarters, Retrieved from: https://www.pacom.mil/About-USINDOPACOM/

[16] Riccardo Rossi, (2021) The geostrategic importance of the Island of Guam in the U.S. policy of containment of Chinese expansionism in the Asia-Pacific, Geopolitical Report 2785-2598 Volume 14 Issue 1, SpecialEurasia, Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2021/12/01/geopolitics-guam-united-states/

[17] Riccardo Rossi, (2022) North Korea launched a ballistic missile from a submarine, SpecialEurasia, Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/05/09/north-korea-missile-asia-pacific/

[18]Riccardo Rossi (2022) Japan in the U.S. Pivot to Asia Policy, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Vol 17 (1), SpecialEurasia, Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/03/01/japan-united-states-asia/.

[19] Riccardo Rossi (2022) The Russian Federation strengthens the Pacific Fleet, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Vol 19 (15), SpecialEurasia, Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/05/28/russian-federation-pacific-fleet/

[20] R.Rossi (2022), Beijing deployed J-20 fighter jets in the South China Sea, SpecialEurasia, Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/04/21/military-south-china-sea/.

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