The highlight of every RIMPAC exercise, held on even-numbered years off the coast of Hawaii, is the sinking exercise, or SINKEX. The U.S. Navy, allies, and other participants unleash live weapons on an old warship hulk, pummeling it relentlessly until it disappears under the waves. This year’s exercise gave the ex-USS Racine, an old Newport-class tank landing ship, the fiery sendoff after a barrage that included a guided US Army artillery rocket, Japanese anti-ship missiles, and finally a back-breaking submarine torpedo.
As this video produced by the US Indo-Pacific Command explains, the ex-Racine was towed out of Pearl Harbor by the tug USNS Sioux to a stretch of water off the coast of Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands.
The SINKEX is about as environmentally friendly as sinking a warship can be. As the Navy explains, “Each SINKEX is required to sink the hulk in at least 1,000 fathoms (6,000 feet) of water and at least 50 nautical miles from land. Surveys are conducted to ensure that people and marine mammals are not in an area where they could be harmed during the event.”
A U.S. Navy sailor checks a Mk. 48 ADCAP torpedo used to sink the ex-USS Racine, RIMPAC 2018. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael H. LeePhoto by: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael H. Lee
The GMLRS launch vehicle, a HIMARS rocket artillery truck, could have been parked on the flight deck of a US Navy ship—the Marines did it in 2017. This was celebrated as a great act of cooperation between the services. This time there was no celebration, and U.S. Navy’s Twitter feed confirms that no surface ships took part in the exercise, only aircraft, submarines, and land-based assets. The Department of Defense’s DVIDS media distribution service also confirms the GMLRS rocket was on land, at Barking Sands, when the launch took place. Here’s a photo of the HIMARS vehicle on the base:
HIMARS launch vehicle at Barking Sands. U.S. Army photo by Capt. Rachael JeffcoatPhoto by: U.S. Army Capt. Rachael Jeffcoat
One possible answer? The Army was using a new rocket. The Army is currently testing a new, longer-range version of the GMLRS rocket, Tail-Controlled GMLRS. TC-GMLRS ranges out to 90 miles, placing the Racine easily within reach. Implied in the test is that this new version of the rocket can hit moving targets, perhaps cued by the same Gray Eagle drone.
As the SINKEX coup de grace, the U.S. Navy nuclear attack submarine USS Olympia unleashed a Harpoon missile and a Mk. 48 heavyweight torpedo. Its final mission complete, the ex-USS Racine finally sank an hour after being hit by the torpedo, in 15,000 feet of water.