The absence of African navies in the world’s largest maritime exercise is highly symbolic…
As the 2018 edition of the world’s largest (and oldest) multinational naval exercise known as The Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) begins on June 27th, it promises to be spectacular as eighteen land forces, 200 aircrafts of various types, 26,000 personnel with an armada of 52 different ships and submarines drawn from 26 countries cluster in Hawaii and South California to hone their naval age-old seafaring and combat skills.
The Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise is held biennially during the month of June and July and has been running consecutively since its inception in 1971. It is hosted by the United States Navy’s Pacific Fleet which has its headquarters in Pearl Harbor in conjunction with the US Marine and Coast Guard.
RIMPAC aims to enhance the interoperability of countries in the Pacific Region, ostensibly as a way to promote stability in the region. The exercise begins with an invitation from the United States and it typically consists of a series of exercises which encompasses a wide range of naval operations from disaster relief, amphibious operations, anti-piracy drills, anti-submarine warfare, air defense maneuvers and live-fire drills.
Chinese Absence in RIMPAC 2018
This year’s RIMPAC exercise is turning out to be quite different because two countries were visibly absent – Russia and China both a regular participant and major naval power. China which was “de-invited” by the United States participated in RIMPAC 2014 and 2016. The People Liberation Army (PLA) Navy was disinvited as a result of what the US called a “continued militarization of the disputed features in the South China Seas.”
For the PLA Navy to once again participate in RIMPAC, it must meet some conditions which was enshrined in the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the fiscal year 2019. The U.S. NDAA document includes some suggestions like: Chinese cessation of all land reclamation and militarization activities in the South China Seas. A request very unlikely to happen.
The 2019 edition of RIMPAC also saw the inaugural inclusion of Vietnam, Brazil, Israel and Sri Lanka. Other small nations but arguably powerful military which get invited regularly includes but not restricted to: Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei. The rest are Japan, Australia, Canada, Chile, Columbia, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, the Republic of Korea, Tonga and the United States.
Several observer countries are usually invited such as Russia, China, Ecuador, India, while they might not contribute any naval vessel, they get involved in the strategic level or use the opportunity to prepare for possible full participation in the future.
But no African Country.
The lack of African participation in the RIMPAC bears significance to the broader question of the extent of African involvement in the global security framework. The absence of African navies in the world’s largest maritime exercise is highly symbolic and an indication of Africa not being taken seriously in the strategic level.
At a time when African nations are enhancing their naval warfighting capabilities, anti-piracy competency, improving foreign relations (especially with the West) and upgrading their technological base in the area of indigenous naval shipbuilding. The presence of Israel, Peru and Columbia et al which have comparable naval strengths with some African countries like Egypt , Algeria and South Africa and Nigeria should herald African Navies participation in the highly strategic maritime exercise.
With Africa’s multi-spectrum naval capabilities honed to precision over the years, several of the continent’s Navies has the wherewithal to participate in all level and phases of the RIMPAC exercise from amphibious operations, anti-piracy drills, maritime security, even anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare operations.
- Mistral Class
- FREMM Aquitaine-class frigate (1 unit)
- Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate (4 units)
- Gowind class corvettes
- 9,000 tonnes Kalaat Béni Abbès amphibious transport dock
- Meko A200 stealth frigate
- C28A stealth corvettes
- Project 626 attack submarine
South African Navy
- A-200N Stealth Frigates
- Heroine class Submarine
- Hamilton-class high endurance
- P-18N Class multi-purpose stealth corvette
RIMAT (Rim of Atlantic) and Obangame
With the increasing combat capability of African Navies, the continent could look within and provide its own African sponsored world-class all-inclusive maritime exercise. Alternatively, the well-established Obangame Express could provide a template or groundwork for this exercise.
Obangame meaning “Togetherness” is a naval exercise ironically sponsored by the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM). It aims to improve regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness (MDA), information-sharing practices to enhance the collective naval capabilities in the Gulf of Guinea.
Hopefully, the success of this endeavor would establish African navies world-class naval capacity and get them invited to the largest naval exercise known to man.