VICE News is out at the world's largest international naval exercise, Rim of the Pacific 2014, more commonly known as RIMPAC 2014, shooting footage for upcoming episodes of War Games. Like you'd pretty much expect from a major international naval exercise, a lot of the activity and training is related to stuff that ships do with and relation to each other. But along with strictly ship-to-ship naval interactions, this exercise also includes a lot of activities and training involving interactions between domains (sea, air, and land).
Modern militaries usually want to have the ability to fight in pretty much any environment. However, each environment presents different challenges and advantages to forces operating there. These different advantages and disadvantages may mean that a force may have to operate or move through more than one domain. To wit, a tank is a great tool for fighting a ground war, but it can’t get to a ground war overseas unless it is moved by sea or is flown to its destination. So while a tank (or aircraft or whatever) lives and fights in one particular domain, it will probably have to spend a significant time living outside of its native environment, as shipboard cargo, for instance.
Shifting equipment or forces from one domain to another is usually a tricky and difficult task, requiring specialized equipment, facilities, and training. Not surprisingly, national developments in these sorts of gear often attract significant attention from defense and intelligence analysts.
The F-18 is the mainstay combat aircraft of the US Navy and Marine Corps, and has taken on a number of roles previously filled by several different types of naval aircraft. In order to operate from an aircraft carrier, the F-18 and other aircraft capable of operating from a carrier incorporate several very specific design features, including a heavier and more robust airframe to survive the jarring carrier launches and landings, as well as an arresting hook to grab cables stretched across the deck, which help the plane come to a stop before it goes off the edge of the ship.
The F-18 can also operate from conventional airfields. When there isn’t a particular need to operate the aircraft from the sea, the F-18 often operates from land, since the maintenance and operations are a bit easier outside of the confines of an aircraft carrier.
Not only do carrier-enabled aircraft require special design features to operate from a carrier, the ships from which they operate often require significant, specialized equipment. When operating from land, this F-18 would need more than 1,500 feet to take off, while on a carrier, it has to take off at distances closer to 250 feet. Steam-driven catapults are used to help launch the aircraft. In the above picture, the slots that the catapult moves in are visible as the two long grey/tan lines embedded in the deck, running from the bottom of the image towards the end of the deck.
Similarly, an aircraft carrier has special arresting gear to help planes come to a full stop in just a couple hundred feet, rather than the several thousand feet they would usually use on a regular runway. This arresting gear consists of a set of four very heavy metal cables stretched across the deck. As the plane comes in, its tail hook grabs one of those wires, and a complex system of hydraulics brings the plane to a stop in a matter of feet.
The aircraft carrier also uses its specialized equipment to help cargo aircraft, such as the C-2 Greyhound shown above, land onboard and take off from the carrier. Logistics are a key issue for navies. The challenges of keeping sufficient fuel, food, equipment, and spare parts for a vessel like the USS Ronald Reagan are formidable: the ship weighs more than 100,000 tons, houses almost 100 aircraft, and is home to more than 5,500 crew.
Helicopters, such as this H-60 are used more widely to transport people, equipment, and cargo to and from a ship. Although they carry less, have a much shorter range, and can’t go as fast as fixed-wing aircraft like the C-2 Greyhound, they also don’t need nearly as much specialized equipment onboard either the aircraft or ship to operate from naval vessels. In addition to logistical tasks, helicopters are used extensively by navies to hunt for enemy submarines, since they can hover in one place and lower sonar gear into the water.
This view from the rear of another transport helicopter, the CH-53, shows the loading ramp that the crew member is sitting on. In warm weather, helicopters often fly with the ramp down to provide fresh air and make the ride a bit more pleasant.
This is the much newer, and more controversial V-22 Osprey aircraft which tries to balance the benefits of a fixed-wing aircraft like the C-2 without all of its requirements for specialized shipboard equipment. It lands and takes off like a helicopter, but once in flight, the rotors rotate to forward position. In flight, it moves like a regular propeller plane, giving it much better range and speed than a conventional helicopter.
None of the helicopters or fixed-wing transports shown above can move heavier combat forces, or vehicles — including tanks, and artillery — that are critical in giving a landed force the ability to hold on. This is a view from inside the well deck of the USS Peleliu (LHA-5) showing a hovercraft (known in Navy terms as a Landing Craft, Air Cushion or LCAC). LCACs are is used to move vehicles and heavy equipment quickly to and from an established beachhead.
During an amphibious landing, the large doors to the left are opened, and the rear of the ship is brought deeper into the water, partially flooding this compartment. From here, amphibious craft such as the LCAC can move from inside the ship to the beach, carrying people and equipment and depositing them on the shore.
In addition to traditional surface combatants, aircraft carriers, and amphibious ships, navies also rely heavily on a range of other support vessels, such as the hospital ship shown here. This particular ship has 500 beds and 8 surgical theaters for treating a variety of combat and non-combat injuries.
This year is the first year that China has sent a ship to participate in RIMPAC, marking a major development in military diplomacy.
Each nation, each navy, and each ship does things a little bit differently. The Peace Ark, a Chinese hospital ship, also employs traditional Chinese medicine to treat various issues. Here a sailor is undergoing treatment for lower back pain.
As the exercises come to a close, our focus will shift to the amphibious exercise portion of RIMPAC. We hope to have more photos and coverage soon.
Follow Ryan Faith on Twitter: @Operation_Ryan