Naval war games involving the United States and its Pacific allies will begin in early July off Hawaii, with more than 50 ships, 200 aircraft and 25,000 service members participating from six countries, including Japan, Maritime Self-Defense Force officials said Friday.

For the first time, China and Russia will also participate in the biennial Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), as observers, they said.

Starting July 6, naval forces from the U.S., Australia, Canada, Chili, South Korea and Japan will engage in the monthlong exercise sponsored by the U.S. Navy’s 3rd Fleet, to assess the ability of their ships and raise their tactical skills, the officials said.

Due to financial constraints, however, the scale of RIMPAC ’98 will be smaller compared with 1996, the last time the exercise was held, they said. The MSDF cut down the number of participating destroyers and P-3C aircraft from the ideal “eight and eight” to four and five, respectively, they said.

Also participating in the drill are the fast combat support ship Towada, the submarine Hayashio and a new and powerful destroyer, the Murasame, which enters RIMPAC for the first time.

The U.S. Navy, for its part, does not plan to dispatch aircraft carriers, which will deprive the MSDF of a chance to engage in extensive combat maneuvers with a U.S. carrier group.

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