U.S. Navy Judge Advocates Make their Mark in RIMPAC 2018

From U.S. 3rd Fleet The world’s largest international maritime exercise was recently completed on and around the islands of Hawaii, and U.S. Navy judge advocates played an active, critical role in […]

From U.S. 3rd Fleet

The world’s largest international maritime exercise was recently completed on and around the islands of Hawaii, and U.S. Navy judge advocates played an active, critical role in these operational training events.  The Rim of the Pacific exercise, or RIMPAC, began in 1971 with just five participating countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom.  Now in its 26th iteration, over 25,000 personnel, 46 ships, 5 submarines, 200 aircraft, and 17 national landing forces from 25 partner nations participated in RIMPAC 2018.

RIMPAC is a unique training opportunity designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s interconnected oceans.  Participants from nations throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region train together as “Capable, Adaptive Partners.”  Participating nations and forces exercise a wide range of capabilities and demonstrate the inherent flexibility of maritime forces.  These capabilities range from disaster relief and maritime security operations to sea control and complex warfighting.  The training program includes gunnery, missile, anti-submarine and air defense exercises, as well as amphibious, counter-piracy, mine clearance, explosive ordnance disposal, and diving and salvage operations.

U.S. Navy judge advocates are essential to the exercise, engaged in providing advice on a range of operational issues to the RIMPAC command staff and planners from all over the world.  U.S. judge advocates are assigned at every level of the exercise chain of command, from individual mission-specific task forces, through combined force component commanders, all the way up to the Commander of the RIMPAC 2018 Combined Task Force, Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet Vice Adm. John D. Alexander.

Cmdr. Amy Larson, U.S. 3rd Fleet Judge Advocate, emphasized the importance of establishing strong and lasting partnerships between U.S. judge advocates and their colleagues in foreign militaries.  “RIMPAC is critical to establish common legal ground and legal definitions, assess our differences, and collaborate with our foreign counterparts as we work together through a real-time scenario.  This is a great opportunity to establish relationships now in preparation for future international cooperation.”

To gain deeper understanding of and compatibility with our international maritime partners, U.S. Navy judge advocate Cmdr. Chris Kimball developed and organized the RIMPAC 2018 Legal Symposium held July 5-6, 2018.  Attendance from over 60 judge advocates and legal advisors, spanning the armed forces of 13 nations, spurred robust discussion and sharing of ideas concerning legal issues.  The symposium provided academic background on issues of comparative law, and elicited productive debate over RIMPAC exercise rules of engagement and principles of maritime law.

Following the symposium, the judge advocates and legal advisors embedded with their respective units to play out the exercise scenario.  Larson and Lt. Simone Harbas advised Vice Adm. Alexander in his capacity as Commander of the Combined Task Force (CCTF).  Lt. Kaitlyn Amundsen was the sole U.S. legal advisor to Air Commodore Craig Heap of the Australian Air Force, the exercise Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFAAC).

Lt. Jessica Woo and Lt. Cmdr. Michael Hussey talk with a member of the Indonesian Navy during RIMPAC 2018.

RIMPAC 2018 demonstrates the success of partnership as it is the first iteration in which a non-founding nation has been assigned responsibility for a RIMPAC component command.  Chilean Commodore Pablo Niemann served as the Component Commander of the Combined Maritime Forces (CFMCC), and the majority of U.S. Navy judge advocates served on the advisory staff to him and the subordinate maritime task force commanders.

Lt. Cmdr. Michael Hussey, Lt. Cmdr. Cara Hoy, Lt. Rachel Sussman, and Lt. Jessica Woo directly advised Commodore Niemann and his planning staff.  Lt. Cmdr. Tracy Reynolds, Lt. Anne Courchaine, and Lt. Katie Shaffer supported the commander of RIMPAC Maritime Task Force 170 from aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), while Lt. Cmdr. Tara Lawlor served as legal advisor to the task force commander in charge of mine warfare operation.  Cmdr. Kim McCann and Lt. Tom Caruso provided legal counsel for the maritime interception operations task force, and Lt. Joanne Gonzales was embarked on the HMAS Adelaide (L01), an Australian unit under the exercise amphibious task force.

The coalition training environment raised novel legal issues and lead to cooperative discussions and solutions.  Nation-specific definitions of foundational legal terms presented an opportunity to analyze and appreciate new viewpoints in the practice of operational law.  The San Remo Handbook on Rules of Engagement proved to be a valuable resource in finding common understanding of operational legal aspects, while rules of engagement working group discussions passed on this legal guidance to operators.

As legal advisors to commanders with ships, submarines and aircraft from diverse nations under their command, U.S. Navy judge advocates were always cognizant about the actions each unit is permitted to take.  The exercise of collective self-defense lends just one example.  Judge advocates played an integral part in this arena by advising the units on national rules of engagement caveats for planning and operational purposes.

Lt. Cmdr. Mike Baker, a judge advocate from the Canadian Navy, served as the CCTF deputy legal advisor.  “The smooth conduct of RIMPAC 2018 demonstrated once again the close working relationships which have developed between the Canadian and U.S. Navy JAG Corps, as well as the military legal branches of the other participating countries, since the exercise first took place in 1971.  Coming from a plethora of backgrounds and legal traditions, the members of the RIMPAC legal team came together to achieve a common goal.  The partnerships maintained and the camaraderie established by individual legal officers at RIMPAC and other exercises is critical to our continued, collective operational success in an increasingly complex and unstable world.”