Action-packed six weeks in California for Portsmouth divers at world's largest naval war game

Royal Navy divers swapped the Solent for Socal as they spent six weeks taking part in the world’s biggest naval war game.

It’s the job of Fleet Diving Unit 2 – based on Horsea Island in Portsmouth Harbour – to keep Royal Navy ships and submarines safe when they visit foreign ports, ensuring the waters are free of bombs, mines and other explosive devices.

And it’s the goal of RIMPAC to ensure that navies with a vested interest in the security of the RIM of the PACific region are able to safeguard the world’s largest ocean and shipping lawfully moving around it.

First run in 1971, RIMPAC has grown to embrace 25 nations who this year provided 46 ships, five submarines, around 200 helicopters, jets and other aircraft, and 25,000 military personnel – spread across 2,500 miles of the eastern Pacific from Hawaii to Southern California.

The Brits flew to San Diego where the mine warfare element of RIMPAC was concentrated under Task Force 177 led by the US Navy’s most senior mine expert, Rear Admiral Dave Welch.

His force accounted for 26 units and around 1,100 men and women representing the United States, Australia, Canada, England, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

 

The diving branch is where I belong and I love everything about it - I get to do things which you cannot do in your normal day-to-day job. Getting paid for it – that’s a bonus

Leading Diver Will Bowman, Fleet Diving Unit 2

For the Americans, the exercise was their first chance to test some pretty impressive new equipment: Seahawk helicopters using lasers to detect and the Airborne Mine Neutralisation System to destroy mines; the latter is similar to the Seafox remote-controlled submersible used by the Royal Navy to identify and eliminate mines – except smaller and controlled from a helicopter.

RIMPAC opened with participants getting used to one another’s methods and equipment, before the task force headed out into open waters for the crux of the exercise: to find and neutralise 50 training mines peppering the Pacific.

Leading Diver Will Bowman has served in the Royal Navy for 16 years and “loved every single second of it”.

“The diving branch is where I belong and I love everything about it,” said the enthusiastic junior rating. “I get to do things which you cannot do in your normal day-to-day job. Getting paid for it – that’s a bonus!”

RIMPAC has been a very worthwhile eye-opener for the Horsea Island team.

“We all bring something different and unique to the party – I’ve certainly enjoyed working with different nations,” said Will. “It’s good to share ideas and bounce them off one another. We made real progress.”

Vice Admiral Welch said exercises such as RIMPAC were vital if ever the allied navies faced a real-world mine emergency.

“Trust isn’t something you can surge and it’s critical that we maintain and develop these key relationships for the times we really need to rely on one another,” he added.