KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – A People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) intelligence ship is currently operating off the north-west shelf of Australia, the Australian Department of Defence said Friday.
Australia’s DoD identified the vessel as China’s Dongdiao-class auxiliary intelligence ship Haiwangxing (792) and released imagery and video of the ship.
A graphic of Haiwangxing’s voyage showed the ship crossed Australia’s exclusive economic zone on the morning of May 6. On Sunday, it was approximately 70 nautical miles off the Harold E. Holt Communications Station, in Exmouth, Western Australia, while a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft monitored the ship.
Harold E. Holt Communications Station provides Very Low Frequency (VLF) communication transmission services for Australian, the United States and Australian-allied submarines.
The Chinese ship continued sailing southwards, and on Monday, it was 150 nautical miles off Exmouth while an RAAF P-8 tracked the intelligence ship. At the same time, HMAS Perth (FFH157) sailed out from port to monitor Haiwangxing but subsequently turned back because the Chinese ship changed its sailing direction on Tuesday morning. Haiwangxing turned north, sailing at a speed of six knots, 125 nautical miles from Exmouth. An RAAF P-8 and an Australian Border Force (ABF) Dash-8 maritime surveillance aircraft monitored the ship.
On Wednesday, Haiwangxing sailed northeast at 12 knots, with the ship approaching as close as 50 nautical miles of the of Harold E. Holt Communication Station, while an RAAF P-8, ABF Dash-8 and ABF patrol vessel ABFC Cape Sorell monitored. Haiwangxing was last spotted on Friday at 6 a.m. local time, approximately 250 nautical miles northwest of Broome Western Australia. An RAAF P-8 and a Maritime Border Command Dash-8 maritime surveillance aircraft monitored the ship on Thursday.
“Australia respects the right of all states to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace, just as we expect others to respect our right to do the same. Defence will continue to monitor the ship’s operation in our maritime approaches,” the Australian DoD said in the news release.
Meanwhile, over in the Philippine Sea, the PLAN’s CNS Liaoning (16) carrier strike group continues flight operations, according to the Japanese Ministry of Defense’s daily news releases this week. Liaoning; Type 055 destroyer CNS Nanchang (101); Type 052D destroyers CNS Xining (117), CNS Urumqi (118) and CNS Chengdu (120); Type 052C destroyer CNS Zhengzhou (151); Type 054A frigate CNS Xiangtan (531); and Type 901 fast combat support ship CNS Hulunhu (901) sailed into the Pacific Ocean via the Miyako Strait earlier this month.
The carrier and ships in its CSG performed a series of flight operations four days in a row this week. On 9 a.m. Sunday local time, Liaoning, the two Type 052D destroyers and Hulunhu were sighted 160 kilometers south of Ishigaki Island conducting flight operations with its embarked J-15 fighter aircraft and Z-18 helicopters from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., according to news releases from Japan’s Joint Staff Office.
On Monday, the same ships were seen at 10 a.m. sailing 200 kilometers south of Ishigaki Island, performing flight operations from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. On Tuesday at 9 a.m., the group was sailing 310 kilometers south of Ishigaki Island, performing flight operations from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. On Wednesday at 9 a.m., Liaoning and two Type 052D destroyers were seen 160 kilometers south of Ishigaki Island, again performing flight operations from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer helicopter carrier JS Izumo (DDH-183) has tracked the Liaoning carrier strike group since May 2. Japanese destroyer JS Suzutsuki (DD-117) took over the task of tracking the Liaoning carrier group on Tuesday.
Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) fighter aircraft scrambled each day in response to the J-15 launches, according to the news release. In a Tuesday press conference, Japan Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said the Chinese carried out a total of 100 sorties with its J-15s and Z-18s from Liaoning between May 3 and May 8.
While the activities of the PLAN carrier group were likely aimed at improving its aircraft carriers’ operational capabilities and its ability to carry out operations away from home, Kishi said Japan is concerned about the operations given that they were happening close to the Ryuku Islands and Taiwan. The Japanese Ministry of Defense will continue to monitor such activities, he said.
The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is also operating in the Philippine Sea. Earlier this week, the CSG conducted deterrence missions in the Philippine Sea by performing long-range maritime strike with refueling help from Pacific Air Forces KC-135 Stratotankers, according to a U.S. 7th Fleet news release issued Friday.
USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), destroyers USS Spruance (DDG-111) and USS Dewey (DDG-105), and cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG-53) also performed multi-domain training to defend the carrier, according to the news release.
“Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is a powerful presence in the Philippine Sea that serves as a deterrent to aggressive or malign actors and supports a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Rear Adm. J.T. Anderson, the commander of carrier strike group Three, said in the release. “There is no better way to strengthen our combat-credible capabilities than to work alongside other joint forces to demonstrate our commitment to sovereignty, the region, and a rules-based international order.”