Exercises like RIMPAC allow the sea services and their allies to prepare for large-scale amphibious missions, even after former Defense Secretary Robert Gates raised the possibility that the days of Marines storming enemy beaches may be over.
"Looking ahead, I do think it is proper to ask whether large-scale amphibious assault landings along the lines of Inchon are feasible though anti-ship missiles with long range and high accuracy may make it necessary to debark from ships 25 or 40 or 60 or more miles at sea," Gates said in August 2010.
But Descheneaux said it's important for Marines and sailors to train for those events — especially as they test new high-tech tactics and gear.
"Suggesting that the Marines have not landed under fire since the Korean War is an interesting footnote," Descheneaux said. "Rather than suggesting the irrelevance of amphibious operations, it showcases progress in our technology, tactics, techniques and procedures."
Here's a look at what Marines and sailors will be up to during this year's exercise.
Storming Hawaiian beaches
Aviation boatswain's mates (handling) assigned to the amphibious assault ship America prepare a U.S. Army CH-47D Chinook helicopter for take-off during deck landing qualifications as the ship transits to Rim of the Pacific 2016.
Photo Credit: Navy
Testing new gear at the Stumps
A small team from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines will conduct live-fire exercises to simulate landing more than 120 miles from its sea base to fight insurgents backed by a major world power, according to officials with Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
The Marines will test their communications networks and other technologies as well as the concepts of how to use robotic systems and guided munitions in an urban environment.
While the experiment is not aimed at a specific adversary, the Marine Corps envisions future enemies will use electromagnetic warfare and cyber attacks, similar to how the Russians have fought in Eastern Ukraine.
People's Republic of China People's Liberation Army replenishment ship Gaoyouhu arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for Rim of the Pacific 2016.
Photo Credit: Petty Officer 1st Class John Her/Navy
Working with China
The Chinese ships will be part of Combined Joint Task Force 175, led by the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, Rotklein said.
"During the exercise, PLA units will conduct medical exchanges, counter-piracy and maritime interdiction operations, diving operations, gunnery exercises and a submarine rescue event," she said.
"Their attitude, partly understandable, is: If I have a knife and you have a gun, transparency does not serve my ends," Cheng said. "However, since you have a gun and I have a knife, it is up to you to make me feel better — especially since I, self-evidently, am obviously not a threat to anyone."
A total of 26 countries are taking part in RIMPAC 16 including Australia, India and China. The Mexican amphibious ship ARM Usumacinta will conduct amphibious training with the dock landing ship Pearl Harbor off California, Tiller said.
For the first time, an Australian amphibious ship, HMAS Canberra, will be part of the amphibious task force in Hawaii along with its U.S. counterparts: the amphibious assault America and amphibious transport dock San Diego, he said.
An aerial view of the amphibious assault ship America moored at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for Rim of the Pacific 2016.
Photo Credit: Petty Officer 1st Class Ace Rhea/Navy
"Interoperability and practical bilateral cooperation between the Australia army and the U.S. Marines develops both our nation's capabilities and enables us to work closely together when responding to regional and global security challenges," who spoke on the spokesperson said.
Australia is the anchor of the southern part of what Australian defense officials call the "Indo-Pacific region," which encompasses the Indian Ocean and South Pacific, said Baker, director of programs at Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu.
"It basically ties the Middle East to East Asia," Baker said. "That involves Europe. It involves all of the goods that are coming through the Suez [Canal] to Asia."
Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Canberra arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for Rim of the Pacific 2016.
Photo Credit: Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeffrey/Navy
The U.S. supports the Australian concept of both nations working with India to patrol the Indian Ocean, Baker said.
"I think the U.S. has been very eager to improve the coordination between the U.S. and Australia – as well as the U.S. and India – through that particular body of water," Baker said.
Baker believes that military cooperation between the U.S. and India will be limited to both countries navies for the time being. The two countries already take part in the annual Exercise Malabar along with Japan.
While the U.S., Australia and India are focuses on the Southern Pacific and Indian Ocean, it is possible that the three countries may expand patrols to include the South China Sea, where China has overlapping territorial claims with U.S. partners and allies, Baker said.
"I don't think that's going to happen right away but India has been working with Vietnam in the South China Sea, and so it would make sense that eventually the United States, Australia and India will work in the South China Sea," he said. "I think for now, it would be down in the Indo-region and maybe the Indo-Pacific rather than going into the South China Sea, just because it's provocative to the Chinese at this point."
Amphibious operations still matter
Even though weaponry used to defend enemy coasts has advanced significantly since World War II, amphibious operations are still an important part of how Marines and sailors operate, said retired Marine Col. David Fuquea, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College.
With 70 percent of the Earth's surface covered in water, the U.S. military will continue to need to launch operations from the sea to take the fight to the enemy, Fuquea said.
"The Marine Corps has been saying — really since I was a captain back in the '80s and '90s — we can't think of amphibious operations in terms of the amphibious assaults like Iwo Jima," he said. "We want to use maneuver from the sea to go where the bad guy is not.
In July 2006, Hezbollah severely damaged an Israeli corvette with an anti-ship missile, showing that amphibious assault ships must launch troops far from shore. Some of the technology used to put Marines ashore has evolved since World War II to meet new threats, Fuquea said. Other technology has not advanced at all, he said.
While the MV-22B Osprey and Landing Craft Air Cushions give the Marine Corps the ability to launch troops and vehicles far from shore, the Marines' amphibious vehicles and the Navy's next generation landing craft still move at between six and eight knots — the same speed as they did 70 years ago, Fuquea said.
"We're choosing some new systems that are no better than the legacy systems they are replacing, and that is the biggest thing that has to be overcome," he said. "Once you can do ship-to-shore and give yourself legitimate over-the-horizon capability, that ability to place large scale combat power anywhere we want from the over horizon at sea gives us maneuverability that can't be matched."