In an August 30 weapons test at the climax of the US Navy’s Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise off the coast of Hawaii, a former cargo ship was used for target practice. Video of the drill shows at least four anti-ship missiles ripping through the hull of the ex-USS Durham, an amphibious cargo ship.
It’s not clear which ships participated in the shooting drill, but a news release by the US Third Fleet notes that the Canadian warship HMCS Regina, a Halifax-class frigate, fired at least some of the missiles that impacted the Durham, and that aircraft were also involved. In the video, three missiles can be seen impacting the port side of the Durham from roughly the same angle, but prior to their arrival, a fourth missile is seen attacking the ship head-on, either barely missing the vessel or skipping off its hull and impacting the water behind it.
The Drive also noted what seems to be an airburst shot, possibly by rocket artillery, which flings shrapnel onto the Durham and surrounding water just before the final missile hits the ship. The US Marine Corps has previously tested the firing of HIMARS rocket artillery from the deck of an amphibious assault ship, so there is precedent for its use in this way.
“Simulation is a critical part of our training but there is nothing better than to conduct live fire training,” Royal Australian Navy Capt. Phillipa Hay, the commander of RIMPAC 2020 Task Force One, said in a US Navy release. “Sinking exercises are an important way to test our weapons and weapons systems in the most realistic way possible. It demonstrates as a joint force we are capable of high-end warfare.”
“Shooting a Harpoon missile is a difficult and perishable skill, so any opportunity to plan and execute exercises with combined forces increases our skills, proficiency, and overall capability,” Royal Canadian Navy. Lt. Mike Vanderveer, the Regina’s weapons officer, said in the release.
The Harpoon is among the oldest anti-ship missiles used by the US Navy, introduced in 1977. It’s received numerous upgrades since then, giving it different ways of attacking its target vessel as well as extending its range to compete with Chinese long-range missiles.
The bread-and-butter anti-ship weapon of many militaries around the world, the Harpoon saw lots of use during the RIMPAC exercise, which involved 22 surface ships, one submarine and approximately 5,300 personnel from 10 different countries, even though it was scaled down compared to years past.
The Navy noted that before a ship is used in a SINKEX drill, it’s thoroughly cleaned of all toxic materials, including fuel and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and the area where it will be sunk is verified to be clear of wildlife and humans beforehand. In addition, the ship has to be sunk in at least 6,000 feet of water and more than 50 miles from shore.
SINKEXs don’t just use old cargo ships, though: sometimes, they can feature big capital ships, too. Perhaps the largest was the USS Guam, an Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship the Navy pummeled into oblivion in a 2001 SINKEX run for naval aviators to practice targeting an aircraft carrier. However, obsolete vessels have also been used in nuclear weapons tests, and even blown up with explosives to form artificial reefs.