The roar of two F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets signaled the start of an assault on Kaneohe’s Pyramid Rock Beach. A multinational coalition was about to launch an amphibious landing in the fictional nation of Griffon. Their objective was to retake an airfield that had been captured by hostile forces in the wake of a natural disaster.
It was the culminating exercise of RIMPAC 2018. Marines and sailors from Australia, Chile, the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, and South Korea joined U.S. service members in the assault. Royal Australian Navy Commodore Ivan Ingam was in command of the task force.
Over Commodore Ingham’s shoulder was the HMAS Adelaide – one of the Royal Australian Navy’s two amphibious assault ships. The 750 foot long Adelaide can carry 8 helicopters, 4 amphibious troop carriers, and over 1,000 Marines.
As the F-18’s thunder overhead, two waves of Amphibious Assault Vehicles spill out of the Adelaide. Each AAV carries 21 fully loaded Marines. Think of a tank that can drive on land or open water. In this exercise, 300 marines will launch from Australian and Indonesian ships.
Lines of AAV’s fill the bay, churning through the choppy water. As the first troop carries reach the sand, attack helicopters escort them from above. The back ramps drop – and teams of American and Malaysian Marines pour onto the beach.
U.S. Marine Colonel Michael Styskal commands an international task force of marines and aviators based in Hawaii who specialize in operations like this one. He oversaw the ground and air portions of the mission.
But there wasn’t just naval power on display. For the first time, soldiers from the U.S. Army participated in the landing exercise. In fact, it was the Army that carried out the largest amphibious assault in history – the D-Day landings at Normandy. But for RIMPAC they’re in a supporting role. Colonel Christopher Wenland commanded the Army’s portion of the exercise.
The F-18’s came around for a second pass as landing teams secured the objective. Their commander Colonel Styskal gave his assessment as only a U.S. Marine can. He noted that the plan called for his Marines to hit the beach at 9:20 am, but they touched sand at 9:19 am - one minute early.