The US, Australia and its allies sank a warship for practice in the Pacific, and it's a preview of how a fight with China could go down

US NavyA torpedo striking the forward section of the Racine during a RIMPAC sinking exercise, July 12, 2018.

Twenty-five-thousand personnel from 25 countries around the Pacific are taking part in the 26th iteration of the US-led Rim of the Pacific exercise, which runs from June 27 to August 2.

The event is meant to strengthen partnerships and security ties around the world’s largest ocean.

On July 12, live fire from aircraft, a submarine, and land-based missiles rained down on the former USS Racine, a 522-foot-long, 5,100-ton landing ship tank that was decommissioned a quarter-century ago.

Sinking exercises are not new to RIMPAC, but the latest version of the drill comes amid growing tension with China in the region, and several first-time features of the exercise underscore how the US and its allies are preparing for new and emerging threats in the Pacific.


Racine is one of two ships that will be hauled to a target area 63 miles north of the Hawaiian island of Kauai by the Military Sealift Command tug Sioux. Preparations began months ago, when Navy personnel started scouting the decommissioned ship to remove fuel, chemicals, and other contaminants. The ship has been in port for close to three decades, which complicated the tow.

Sarah Burford/Military Sealift CommandUS Military Sealift Command ocean tug USNS Sioux tows decommissioned US Navy landing ship tank Racine to a designated target area ahead of a RIMPAC sinking exercise, July 10, 2018.

The Sioux will also tow the decommissioned guided-missile frigate McClusky to a target area for a sinking exercise before it ends on July 17.


“Ex-Racine was not like some of our regular tows, where we are moving an active ship from one place to another,” said Capt. Harry Sprague, the Sioux’s civil-service master. “With this one, our concern was what would happen once we started to move it; was it going to be seaworthy? Would it take on too much water? Would we be able to deliver it to a spot in the ocean where it may or may not sink when the time came?”

Sarah Burford/Military Sealift CommandUS Military Sealift Command ocean tug USNS Sioux tows decommissioned US Navy landing ship tank Racine to a designated target area ahead of a RIMPAC sinking exercise.

Source: US Military Sealift Command


Australian, Japanese, and US personnel took part in the July 12 sink-ex. At Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands in Hawaii, Japanese Ground Self-Defence personnel fired a surface-to-ship missile, and US soldiers fired a Naval Strike Missile and missiles from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, both of which were truck-mounted.

US Army/Capt. Rachael JeffcoatUS soldiers discuss the launch of the High Mobility Rocket System at Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands Hawaii during a RIMPAC sinking exercise, July 12, 2018.

Source: US Defence Department


Gen. Robert Brown, commander of US Army Pacific, said it was the “first time ever in history” that Japanese missiles under US fire control targeted a ship. “That’s pretty unique,” Brown told The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

US Army/Capt. Rachael JeffcoatJapanese Ground Self-Defence Force members launch a surface-to-ship missile from the Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands toward decommissioned US Navy ship Racine, during a RIMPAC sinking exercise, July 12, 2018.

Source: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Below, you can see Japanese personnel firing surface-to-ship missiles at the Racine.


The US and partner forces have put new emphasis on ground-based missiles as the ocean and littoral areas have become more contested. “Countries like China, Iran, and Russia are challenging our ability to project power ashore, from the sea, through ever-more sophisticated anti-ship missiles,” Adm. Harry Harris, then-head of US Pacific Command, said in 2016.

US Navy/Master Chief Mass Comm. Specialist Brian BrannonJapanese Ground Self-Defence Force members fire a Japanese Type 12 surface-to-ship missile at decommissioned US Navy ship Racine from Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands on Kauai, Hawaii, during a RIMPAC sinking exercise, July 12, 2018.

Source: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Below, you can see Japanese personnel firing Type 12 missiles at the Racine.


Mobile, ground-based, long-range missiles are seen as another option — alongside Navy and Air Force assets — to target enemy ships when anti-ship missiles make it harder to operate in contested waters. Such coordination reflects the Pentagon’s ambitions for a multi-domain approach to battle, drawing on cooperation and information-sharing between militaries and service branches.

US Army/Capt. Rachael JeffcoatSoldiers and civilians watch the launch and impact of the naval strike missile (NSM) at Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands Hawaii during a RIMPAC sinking exercise, July 12, 2018.

Source: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser


Ground-based missiles can be reloaded, and their mobility makes them harder to detect and destroy. Such forces are “like an unsinkable aircraft carrier,” Brown told The Star-Advertiser.

US NavyA missile strikes the Racine during a RIMPAC sinking exercise in the Pacific Ocean, July 12, 2018.

Source: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Below, you can see a strike on the Racine’s aft section.


During the July 12 sinking exercise, a Japanese P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft was on the scene to acquire the target, but poor weather prevented it from doing so. Instead, a Grey Eagle drone, working with a US Army Apache helicopter, tracked down the target.

US NavyDamage to the forward section of the Racine.

Source: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser


The Apache relayed target information from the drone to Army personnel on the ground, who passed the details along to the Japanese and US missile crews.

US NavyDamage to the forward section of the Racine.

Source: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser


Japanese personnel fired four Type 12 missiles at the Racine, all of which hit the target, the Navy said. The Japanese missiles were also fired alongside missiles from a US High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. The US Army also fired the Naval Strike Missile — likely the first time the service has done so, Col. Christopher Wendland, the head of the multi-domain task force, told The Star-Advertiser.

US NavyDamage to the forward section of the Racine.

Source: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser


Sinking exercises “are an important way for us to test our weapons and weapons systems” in the most realistic way possible, said Canadian navy Rear Adm. Bob Auchterlonie, deputy chief of the RIMPAC Combined Task Force. A Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft — taking part for the first time — fired a Harpoon anti-missile at the Racine during the exercise.

US Navy/Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Michael H. LeeMachinist’s Mate (Weapons) 3rd Class Raul E. Bonilla, assigned to fast-attack submarine USS Olympia, prepares to load a Mark 48 Advanced Capability torpedo in Olympia’s torpedo room for a RIMPAC sinking exercise, July 12, 2018.

Source: US Defence Department


US Navy fast-attack sub USS Olympia also fired a Harpoon missile, in addition to a Mark 48 torpedo. The potency of torpedoes against a ship means they are typically used last during sinking exercises. The Racine still took an hour to give in, however, slipping beneath the waves into 15,000 feet of water around 8 p.m. on July 12.

US NavyA torpedo striking the forward section of the Racine.

Source: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser,The War Zone

Below, you can see a clip of a torpedo striking the Racine.


The exercise “demonstrated the lethality and adaptability of our joint forces,” US Indo-Pacific Command head Adm. Phil Davidson said. “As naval forces drive our enemies into the littorals, army forces can strike them. Conversely, when the army drives our enemies out to sea naval firepower can do the same.”

US Navy.Damage from a torpedo on the forward section of the Racine.

Source: US Defence Department

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