Attack Sub USS Hawaii Prepares for RIMPAC Exercises

The Virginia-class attack submarine USS Hawaii (SSN 776) transits Tokyo Bay on the way to Fleet Activities Yokosuka. The sub will soon participate in this year's RIMPAC exercises. (US Navy photo/Lara Bollinger)
The Virginia-class attack submarine USS Hawaii (SSN 776) transits Tokyo Bay on the way to Fleet Activities Yokosuka. The sub will soon participate in this year's RIMPAC exercises. (US Navy photo/Lara Bollinger)

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- There wasn't much going on outside the state's namesake submarine, the USS Hawaii (SSN 776), at pierside Thursday, but inside was a beehive of activity as the Virginia-class submarine prepared to get underway for the at-sea portion of Rim of the Pacific exercises.

More than 10 sailors crowded the control room, checking workstations. Groups of sailors passed in narrow halls completing final tasks. Four large inflatable rafts -- each weighing over 200 pounds -- were rolled up and stuffed through a topside hatch for special operations troops.

MK-48 torpedoes -- each weighing 3,520 pounds -- are also loaded through one of those narrow hatches at an angle, but the Hawaii, one of five submarines participating in this year's RIMPAC, won't be shooting any during the exercise.

The Hawaii will be the hunter and the hunted, with nations including India, New Zealand, Canada and others looking to sharpen their anti-submarine warfare skills with ships, aircraft and helicopters.

It's all going to start Monday and Tuesday, with nearly 50 ships heading out to sea from Pearl Harbor through the rest of the month.

USS HAWAII

Virginia-class submarine

>> Commissioned: May 5, 2007

>> Length: 377 feet

>> Displacement: 7,800 tons

>> Crew: 140

>> Dive depth: Greater than 800 feet

>> Armament: Tomahawk missiles in 12 vertical launch tubes, MK-48 torpedoes, four tubes

That includes the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and its escorts -- which always have submarines, both foe and friend, on their minds.

Cmdr. John C. Roussakies, who commands the Hawaii, said he expects his sub and crew of about 140 to traverse "a couple thousand miles" around the island chain during the exercise.

In addition to the Hawaii, the submarines Illinois and Olympia from Pearl Harbor will participate, with the Olympia expected to fire a Harpoon missile from one of its torpedo tubes to demonstrate an anti-ship cruise missile capability.

Foreign-nation subs include the Rankin from Australia, which will fire a torpedo to sink a ship, and the Park Wi from South Korea.

"The main purpose of RIMPAC is developing that interoperability," Roussakies said, adding that "it's a big ocean out there, and we cannot do the job ourselves."

The fact that South Korea and Australia sent diesel submarines all the way to Hawaii is no small feat, and "it shows their commitment in developing that capability," the sub commander said.

The USS Hawaii will provide anti-submarine warfare training for the fleet, "and at some point we'll probably do simulated attacks," he said.

Asked how the Hawaii will do in the war games, Torpedoman 1st Class Gabriel Baltezar, 27, from Fontana, Calif., said, "Obviously, it's the (USS) Hawaii. It's the war canoe. We're going to win. That's what it is. We're a submarine -- that's what we do."

Chief Petty Officer Gerardo Hernandez, 30, from Los Angeles, said there will be a lot of ships on the surface, "and they are all looking for us, so it's just a matter of trying to exercise as much of our capabilities just as much as we're trying to help the other nations and other ships exercise theirs."

Virginia subs have a reconfigurable torpedo room that can accommodate a large number of special operations forces and all their equipment on deployments. The class also has a large lock-in/lock-out chamber for divers.

Roussakies said the Hawaii will take on about 30 troops, including a "handful" of U.S. Army Rangers and Indonesian, Indian, Philippine, South Korean and Japanese special operators for practice exiting the lockout chamber on the surface, inflating the rafts, fitting on the 80-pound motors and heading to the White Plains beach area.

"It sounds like it should be easy, but it's a lot of work," Roussakies said. It took five to six sailors to carry each raft onto the sub, and the vessel will be "rocking and rolling" on the surface, he said.

The actual submarine threat in the Pacific is growing.

"From a joint commander perspective, I need more submarines," former Adm. Harry Harris, then head of U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee last year.

Harris said the U.S. submarine force deals with "the Russian submarine threat, the Chinese submarine threat, and they're also involved in surveillance missions and other kinds of missions."

About 230 of the world's 400 foreign submarines were in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, with about 160 of those belonging to China, Russia and North Korea, Harris said. Potential adversary submarine activity has tripled since 2008, he said.

China and Russia are significantly improving their submarines, but Harris said there was "no comparison between a U.S. Virginia-class submarine and anything that China can field."

The 377-foot Virginia-class subs can dive to more than 800 feet and operate at more than 29 mph submerged. The subs have improvements to operate in littoral, or nearshore, environments.

"Do we have an edge? Sure. But there's a lot of competition out there," Roussakies said. Today, better technology can be obtained, "and the gaps in technology can be closed very rapidly," he said. "We have the edge today, but we have to stay on guard. ... There's a lot of work to keep that edge."

Pearl Harbor is home to six newer Virginia-class subs and about a dozen older, but still capable, Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarines.

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This article is written by William Cole from The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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