Huge Armada Of Allied Ships Gather For U.S. Navy’s RIMPAC Photo Op (Updated)

On Thursday, July 28, 37 ships and two submarines belonging to multi-national forces took part in an impressive group sail photo op during the annual Rim of the Pacific exercise near the Hawaiian Islands. Before the U.S. Navy shared the impressive image, though, one Twitter user was quick to point out the cluster of satellite Automatic Identification System (AIS) tracks off the coast of Kauai and shared the findings online ahead of the official release.

UPDATE — We now have a video from the PHOTOEX:

According to the U.S. Navy, 26 nations, 38 ships, three submarines, more than 30 unmanned systems, approximately 170 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel are participating in this year’s overall RIMPAC from June 29 to Aug. 4. Thursday’s photo op, also referred to as a PHOTOEX, included two of those submarines and 37 of the ships after the Peruvian Navy’s BAP Almirante Guise corvette caught fire July 17 and was removed from the exercise. Online flight tracking data shared also revealed that a General Atomics MQ-9B was flying above the armada during the display. The War Zone reached out to our friend Amelia Smith, or @ameliaairheart on Twitter, who first shared the satellite AIS tracks, to ask how she managed to spot the formation.

“A friend of mine noticed a cluster of Satellite AIS tracks off the coast of Kauai, but wasn’t able to see what they were, and they were kind of out of order,” wrote Amelia Smith, a freelance analyst with a focus on defense and military aviation. “I took a look at it with a paid VesselFinder account which let me see what those satellite tracks are and saw the nice grid pattern.”

Smith also noted in her tweet that the Los Angeles class submarine USS Charlotte (SSN-766) and the Republic of Korea Navy’s Sohn Won-yil class submarine Shin Dol-seok (SS-082) were at one point leading the pack as the ships prepared the formation, but the submarines eventually fell back and flanked the fleet for the final snapshot. Leading the charge, in the end, was the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. In fact, Twitter user @whatismoo shared a helpful graphic using the photo from the exercise, that matches Amelia Smith’s AIS plot, to detail each and every vessel that participated in the grand demonstration. 

The multi-national RIMPAC 2022 PHOTOEX fleet included:

  • U.S. Navy’s Nimitz class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72)
  • U.S. Navy’s Los Angeles class submarine USS Charlotte (SSN-766) 
  • Five unspecified U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke class destroyers
  • U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Gridley (DDG 101)
  • U.S. Navy Wasp class landing helicopter dock USS Essex (LHD-2) 
  • U.S. Navy Kaiser class replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO-187)
  • U.S. Navy Lewis and Clark class dry cargo ship USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE-11)
  • U.S. Navy Ticonderoga class cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG-53)
  • U.S. Coast Guard Legend class cutter USCGC Midgett (WMSL-757)
  • Republic of Korea Navy’s Sohn Won-yil class submarine Shin Dol-seok (SS-082) 
  • Republic of Korea Navy’s Chungmugong Yi Sun-sin class destroyer ROKS Munmu the Great (DDH-976)
  • Republic of Korea Navy Dokdo class amphibious assault ship ROKS Marado (LPH-6112)
  • Republic of Korea Navy Sejong the Great class guided missile destroyer ROKS Sejong the Great (DDG-991) 
  • Royal Australian Navy Supply class replenishment oiler HMAS Supply (A195)
  • Royal Australian Navy Canberra class landing helicopter dock HMAS Canberra (L02)
  • Royal Australian Navy Anzac class frigate HMAS Warramunga (FFH-152)
  • Mexican Navy Newport class tank landing ship ARM Usumacinta (A412)
  • Mexican Navy Oaxaca class offshore patrol vessel ARM Benito Juarez (F-101) 
  • Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Izumo class light aircraft carrier JS Izumo (DDH-183)
  • Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Takanami class destroyer JS Takanami (DD-110)
  • Royal Canadian Navy Halifax class frigate HMCS Vancouver (FFH-331) 
  • Royal Canadian Navy Halifax class frigate HMCS Winnipeg (FFH-338)
  • Republic of Singapore Navy’s Formidable class stealth frigate RSS Intrepid (F-69)
  • French Navy Floréal class frigate FS Prairial (F-731)
  • Chilean Navy Condell class frigate CNS-Lynch (FF-07)
  • Philippine Navy Jose Rizal class guided missile frigate BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) 
  • Indonesian Navy Martadinata class frigate KRI I Gusti Ngurah Rai (332)
  • Royal Malaysian Navy Kasturi class corvette KD Lekir (F-26)
  • Royal New Zealand Navy Polar class sustainment vessel HMNZS Aotearoa (A11)
  • Indian Navy Shivalik class frigate INS Satpura (F48)

One of the more intriguing aspects of the PHOTOEX, though, is the line of ships to the far left of the image. In a neat row queued up behind the U.S. Navy’s Zumwalt class USS Michael Monsoor are the service’s unmanned test ships.

USS Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) arrives at Pearl Harbor for RIMPAC 2022. Credit: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dylan Lavin/U.S. Navy

Also known as Unmanned Surface Vessel Division 1, or USVDIV-1, the unit includes the trimaran unmanned surface vessels (USV) Sea Hunter and Seahawk as well as two Ghost Fleet Overlord offshore support vessels designated as Nomad and Ranger. The Ghost Fleet Overlord program was led by the Pentagon and began in 2019. USVDIV-1 is also part of Surface Development Squadron One (SURFDEVRON), the experimental unit to which all three Zumwalt class destroyers, among other unmanned surface vessels, are also assigned. You can read more about SURFDEVRON in this past War Zone article here.

Ghost Fleet, though, was meant to focus on “the integration of government-furnished command-and-control systems and payloads and more complex and challenging naval operations experimentation,” as explained by the Department of Defense. However, at the beginning of this year, the Navy announced that the service would be taking possession of the four USVs, marking the end of the Ghost Fleet program. The Ghost Fleet vessels are now spinning up their testing duties with SURFDEVRON and will only continue to evolve the service’s high-end unmanned surface vehicle operations and technologies, especially now that the Navy’s Force Design 2045 Plans are calling for an additional 150 unmanned surface and underwater vehicles in a massive modernization effort to keep pace with adversaries. 

The large unmanned surface vessel Ranger arrives at Pearl Harbor to participate in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022. Credit: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Demitrius J. Williams/U.S. Navy

This year’s RIMPAC exercise, which is a training opportunity meant to foster and sustain international relationships among participants and to help perfect interoperability, is set to end next Thursday. This recent PHOTOEX, on top of the explosive sinking exercises we’ve already seen, are among the types of highlights we see during RIMPACs, along with live-fire and counter-piracy exercises to name a few. Under the current geopolitical realities, RIMPAC is also a clear message to China, and the remarkable coalition that can be seen floating alongside each other in the photo at the top of this article certainly sends a message of strength and resolve to Beijing.

Contact the author: