PEARL HARBOR – Countries participating in the Rim of the Pacific 2018 exercise had a chance to show off their most innovative solutions to maritime challenges – from high-end game-changers like a virtual reality system to help corpsmen perform battlefield surgeries, to more simple but highly applicable items like a floating damage control bag.
The innovation fair and competition build off of the 2016 RIMPAC’s introduction of innovation as a focus area, and were meant to help the 25 participating countries show off their solutions to common problems – particularly in the areas of port security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, virtual and augmented reality, energy, and data and information management – that could be adopted by other nations or could spark other ideas for how to address challenges at home.
U.S. 3rd Fleet Commander Vice Adm. John Alexander told USNI News on July 20 that 22 organizations hosted booths this year, with “a lot of virtual reality and a lot of autonomous, the [unmanned underwater vehicles], the [unmanned aerial vehicles], that sort of thing. There was a lot of medical things. But I think what you will find, and it’s just my sense is, in 2020 we will probably double the number of booths that we have there, because people saw value in that – and probably saw more value in that than I expected them to see.”
One innovation that stuck out to Alexander, he said in a press conference with reporters, was a virtual reality system to help Navy corpsmen.
“If you have somebody in the field that needs emergency surgery, and you have, say, an independent duty corpsman there, and it doesn’t feel like he has enough expertise to save the individual’s life, then he can put on a virtual headset and he can look at the patient and a doctor thousands of miles away can lead him through a surgery of some sort, and tell him, cut here, don’t cut there, inject these things at this place,” Alexander said.
“And the independent duty corpsman can actually turn around and step into a role as an avatar and talk to the doctor as well.”
He noted the all-important “golden hour” for getting injured patients to medical care – which becomes more challenging as U.S. forces look to operate in smaller, disaggregated groups away from infrastructure hubs or aggregated groups of ships – and he said that “by doing it virtually, we can extend the golden hour out a ways.”
The winning innovation, though, involved no new technology. Rather, the Malaysian Navy presented a floating and reflective damage control (DC) bag that a rapid response team could grab from a flooded compartment. It floats, it has reflective tape on the outside, it has chem lights readily available for personnel to grab, and it organizes other materials in such a way that they could be quickly utilized in an emergency.
“In training we realized that the DC bag is actually not practical when water actually starts coming out, so that’s why we came up with this,” Slt. Chan Jun Kwan, a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Malaysian Navy assigned to frigate KD Lekiu (FFG-30), said during his presentation at the competition.
Alexander called the invention “very simple in its design and structure, but pretty innovative.”
Malaysia sent a ship to RIMPAC for the first time ever this year, and the commanding officer of Lekiu “called his [chief of naval operations] approximately five minutes after to tell him that they won. And it was a very proud moment for Malaysia, given the fact that they sent a ship for the first time and they won the first innovation fair.”
Alexander told USNI News after the press conference that “it’s about sharing knowledge across all the nations. So a nation like Malaysia may not be able to come in with a virtual reality, but they come in and win the innovation competition with a very simple but applicable design that I think other countries could use.”