Chinese Navy Ship Operating Off of Australia, Canberra Says

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 […]

People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Intelligence Collection Vessel Haiwangxing operating off the north-west shelf of Australia. Australian Department of Defence Photo

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.

Movements of PLAN Dongdiao AGI-792 near Australia May 8-13 2022. Australian Department of Defence Photo

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.

A People’s Liberation Army Navy J-15 carrier fighter takes off from Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning (16) on May 7, 2022. Japanese MoD Photo

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.

An F/A-18E Super Hornet, assigned to the “Tophatters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 14, prepares to make an arrested landing on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) in the Philippine Sea on May 12, 2022. U.S. Navy Photo

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.”

Japanese Lawmakers Argue for Counterstrike Capability for Self Defense Force

Japan must develop counterstrike capabilities in coordination with the United States to deter the “more serious imminent threat” from North Korea and the newly accelerated threats from China and Russia in the Northern Pacific, two Japanese lawmakers said Tuesday. Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Itsunori Onodera, a member of the Japanese […]

A Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Soldier assigned to the 1st Airborne Brigade proceeds to a meeting point after completing a static line jump from a U. S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron at JGSDF Narashino Training Area, Japan, April 19, 2022. US Air Force Photo

Japan must develop counterstrike capabilities in coordination with the United States to deter the “more serious imminent threat” from North Korea and the newly accelerated threats from China and Russia in the Northern Pacific, two Japanese lawmakers said Tuesday.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Itsunori Onodera, a member of the Japanese House and a former defense minister, said through a translator that Tokyo “must be prepared for a compound situation” of threats from three potential adversaries in a very different security environment than in 2013. That was the last time Japan overhauled its defense and security strategies.

To underline that point, he cited recent Chinese and Russian joint military exercises that Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin attended. Having the leaders of the two nuclear powers present at the exercise “was rather chilling” to the Japanese, he said.

Japan has been engaged in territorial disputes with both Russia and China since the end of World War II.

“Counterstrike capability is not a single issue,” said Masahisa Sato, a member of the House of Councillors, which is the upper chamber in the Japanese Parliament. He added that developing it is important in the Japanese strategy of “deterrence by denial.” He stressed Tokyo “is not engaging in first strike,” barred by its post-World War II constitution, in developing this technology. He hopes to have counterstrike fielded in five years.

Both Sato and Onodera play key roles in developing what will likely be Tokyo’s new defense and security strategies.

As for potential basing, Sato, a former foreign minister, suggested Hokkaido as a site, with the U.S. Army also stationing soldiers there with medium-range the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, and its vehicles.

“You’ll have to hit the other country’s territory” for effective counterstrike, said Onodera, one of the authors of Japan’s 2013 strategies. Sato estimated that China had 1,900 missiles in its arsenal and said Beijing has ratcheted up tensions in the Taiwan Strait in recent months. It’s also continuously probing Japanese air and maritime defense forces to test response time. As an example of that, China sent an eight-ship carrier strike group through the Miyako Strait this week as it sailed to the Pacific.

While China flexes military muscle around Taiwan and Japan, Russia test-fired submarine-launched cruise missiles in the Sea of Japan. Moscow also conducted a 10-ship surface naval group exercises close to the Japanese home islands.

Japan’s new strategies, developed by the Liberal Democratic Party, have been sent to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Adding the counterstrike capability to the strategy, however, remains controversial with the party’s coalition partner in the government.

Of equal concern to the Komeito party is the Liberal Democrats’ five-year plan to boost Tokyo’s defense spending to 2 percent of its gross domestic product. This is in line with the goal set by NATO in 2014 following Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

“You’re looking at roughly doubling” of Japan’s defense spending, said the Council of Foreign Relations’ Sheila Smith. If the spending plan is adopted as proposed, there would no longer be annual debates on defense spending. “Those monies have to come from somewhere,” she noted, referring to a major concern for future domestic spending if GDP slips.

The proposal will not count Japan’s coast guard or military pensions in reaching the 2 percent goal.

The increased spending plan was in line with Germany’s promise after Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine to also meet the 2 percent goal. It projects greater spending on cyber, space, research and development and to “boldly make use” of the commercial sector and universities in those domains, Onodera added.

Smith said the other question is “what do you want to spend the money on?” She and Onodera both emphasized the importance of sustainability and resiliency in reassessing the total acquisition lifetime costs of systems and platforms. With new systems, like counter-strike, coming into the Japanese arsenal, there could be a “roles and missions balancing act” needed with Washington, D.C., under terms of the alliance, she added.

The two lawmakers were in the United States meeting with administration officials to explain Japan’s proposed strategies and changing posture on defense spending.

Looking at Taiwan, Sato said the U.S. needs to drop its “strategic ambiguity” policy toward Taiwan and make clear the U.S. will come to its defense. He added that Taiwan is vital to Japan and South Korea as a sea lane through which their oil shipments flow. The island is the main source of semi-conductors for both nations’ high-tech industries, as well as for the United States. Japan and South Korea also need to make clear their stance on Taiwan if it is attacked by China, he said.

Japanese AAVs operating at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Jan. 13, 2022. USNI News Photo

If a crisis over Taiwan turned to conflict, Smith said Japan would likely be involved since it hosts a number of U.S. bases like Kadena Air Base and Sasebo Naval Base and the U.S. Marine Corps maintains a large presence on Okinawa.

“What happens once it begins?” Smith asked, referring to the possibility of China striking bases in Japan to cut off outside military support to Taiwan. Of particular concern now in light of the Kremlin’s threats to use tactical nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war is China adopting the same warfighting doctrine to get its way with Taiwan.

“These are weighty issues that must be discussed,” said Onodera.

Onodera said Japan in the future needs to work more closely not only with South Korea and the U.S., but also with India and Australia on security issues across the Indo-Pacific, as well as the Association of South East Asian Nations and the European Union to reach a goal of having a “free and open Pacific.”

Chinese Carrier Liaoning Strike Group Steaming Near Japan, Says MoD

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) dispatched an eight-ship carrier group, led by the carrier CNS Liaoning (16) and accompanied by five destroyers, a frigate and a replenishment ship, into the Pacific Ocean via transit of the Miyako Strait Monday, marking the first time since December 2021 that the carrier has operated in the area. […]

Chinese ships operate off the coast of Japan on May 2, 2022. Japanese MoD Images

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) dispatched an eight-ship carrier group, led by the carrier CNS Liaoning (16) and accompanied by five destroyers, a frigate and a replenishment ship, into the Pacific Ocean via transit of the Miyako Strait Monday, marking the first time since December 2021 that the carrier has operated in the area.

The Joint Staff Office (JSO) of the Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) issued a release Monday on the group’s passage along with photographs of the ships in the group, identifying them by class and pennant number.

Along with Liaoning, the ships in the group are the 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).

Liaoning together with Nanchang, Xining, Urumqi, Chengdu and Hulunhu were sighted sailing south in an area 350km west on the uninhabited Danjo Islands in the East China Sea around midnight Sunday, according to the Joint Staff Office’s release. At 6 p.m. Sunday, Xiangtan was sighted sailing eastward in an area 480km northwest of Okinawa. On Monday, Zhengzhou was sighted traveling south, 160km north of Taisho Island. The PLAN ships subsequently sailed south together through the Miyako Strait.

The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer helicopter carrier JS Izumo (DDH-183) together with JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 4, based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Honshu, and P-3C Maritime Patrol Aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 5, based out of Naha Air Base, Okinawa, conducted monitoring of the PLAN ships, according to the release. Liaoning conducted helicopter operations while in the East China Sea.

Chinese naval spokesperson Gao Xiucheng said the Liaoning group is conducting training in the western Pacific Ocean and that it was a routine training organized by the Chinese navy, according to its annual plan and in line with relevant international law and international practice, China’s Xinhua news agency reported Tuesday.In December last year, Liaoning along with other PLAN ships conducted flight operations in the vicinities of Kita Daito and Oki Daito islands in the Pacific Ocean. Japan now plans to have a mobile radar station based on Kita Daito Island and is considering moving towards permanent radar stations on the Daito Islands to monitor foreign naval activities and transits in the area.

A People’s Liberation Army Navy J-15 carrier fighter takes off from Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning (16) during a December 2021 deployment. PLAN Photo

Littoral Combat Ship USS Jackson (LCS-6) is now in Singapore at Changi Naval Base, arriving on Tuesday to carry out a planned maintenance availability (PMAV) period while in Singapore, according to a 7th Fleet release

“Having Jackson once again using Changi Naval Base as the site for maintenance is a significant milestone and gives operational commanders increased adaptability for maintaining and operating ships,” said Rear Adm. Chris Engdahl, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 7/Task Force 76 in the release. “We are thankful for our defense relationship with the Republic of Singapore and their willingness to host our ships as we strive toward a common goal of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The Royal Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel HMS Spey (P234) arrived in Singapore Friday at Sembawang Naval Installation to join sister ship HMS Tamar (P233). Both Royal Navy vessels are on a five-year deployment to the Indo-Pacific region as part of an overall UK policy to strengthen its presence in the region.

Japan’s Ruling Party Calls for ‘Counter Attack’ Capability, Increased Defense Budget

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presented its national security strategy proposals Wednesday to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, calling to increase in Japan’s defense budget to 2 percent or more of GDP along with the development of “counterattack” capabilities able to strike at not only at missile launch sites but also the command and control capabilities […]

Soldiers from the 1st Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) conduct individual and small-unit maneuver exercises during Iron Fist at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, February 6, 2019. US Marine Corps Photo

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presented its national security strategy proposals Wednesday to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, calling to increase in Japan’s defense budget to 2 percent or more of GDP along with the development of “counterattack” capabilities able to strike at not only at missile launch sites but also the command and control capabilities of the opposing nation which would serve as both a pre-emptive measure and deterrence capability for Japan.

The proposals are not unexpected given that Kishida’s government has pledged to strengthen Japan’s defense. Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told Kyodo News this month his ministry would ask for a larger budget and was discussing the potential of acquiring capabilities to pre-emptively strike at enemy bases.

Kishida’s government plans to put forward a new national security strategy by the end of this year, replacing the one formulated in 2013. The Japanese government will also release a new national security strategy, a new national defense strategy and a new defense capability plan, all covering a period of 10 years.

The development of counterattack capabilities is controversial, given the self-defense stance that Japan has had since its pacifist constitution was created and the LDP’s coalition partner, Komeito, has shown reluctance for increasing the defense budget and acquiring counterattack capabilities.

The LDP’s proposal identifies the threat posed to Japan by Russia, China and North Korea, noting the three countries built-up of their military capabilities along with increased military activities in East Asia.

It also noted that North Korea’s continuing ballistic missile and nuclear weapons developments, the willingness of Russia to use force in Ukraine and China not ruling out the use of force on Taiwan as reasons for Japan to improve its defense. The China Coast Guard continuing to violate Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands and Chinese and Russian aircraft and ships conducting joint flights and sails around Japan were additional concerns.

Japan’s Defense Ministry issued a release this week that a Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Shupang-class survey vessel entered Japanese waters west of Kuchinoerabu Island, at 11 p.m. Tuesday before sailing out of Japan’s territorial waters south of Yakushima Island at 2:10 am on Wednesday. Kuchinoerabu Island lies 130 kilometers (70 nautical miles) south of Kagoshima, Kyushu.

The Defense Ministry release stated that the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer JS Onami (DD-111) and a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat had monitored the PLAN ship. Japan has lodged a protest with China via diplomatic channels on the incident.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Joint Staff Office (JSO) of the Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) issued a release stating that a PLAN frigate and amphibious ship had been spotted that day traveling northwest in the area about 100 km east-northeast of Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture. The ships subsequently proceeded northwest in the sea area between Okinawa and Miyako Island to the East China Sea. Photos and pennant numbers in the release identified the ships as the frigate CNS Zhoushan (529) and landing platform dock CNS Yimeng Shan (988).

The PLAN ships were monitored by the JMSDF replenishment ship JS Hanama (AOE-424) and JMSDF P-3C maritime patrol aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 5 operating from Naha Air Base, Okinawa.

On Tuesday, during a press conference, Kishi stated that his ministry would soon call for bids to survey a suitable site for a mobile radar station on Kita Daito Island, adding that Japan would likely move towards permanent radar stations around the Daito islands as these areas form a surveillance gap in regard to military activities and transits to and from the Pacific Ocean. A Chinese carrier task group conducted an exercise around Kita Daito Island last year, USNI News previously reported.

The LDP proposal also called for the loosening of Japan’s export and transfer restrictions, allowing not only the Japanese defense industry base to sustain itself but to strengthen the defense capabilities of partner nations in the region.

It also called for Japan to further raise awareness and support for the Free and Open Indo-Pacific concept and in collaboration with the E.U., European countries, NATO, AUKUS and others, to further strengthen partnerships in the region along with further enhancing current efforts such as the Quad. At the same time emphasis was also placed on the U.S-Japan alliance, stating that the two countries would strengthen their military and security cooperation and interoperability.

Kishi announced on Thursday that he will travel to the United States from May 3-6 and hold a meeting with Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin on May 4. Items on the agenda include Ukraine, China, and North Korea, the Japan-US “2 + 2” discussion held in January this year and the formulation of a new national security strategy being implemented in Japan along with concrete efforts to strengthen the deterrence and resilience capability of the Japan-US alliance. Kishi also stated his delegation will visit the Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Cyber ​​Command to exchange views on ballistic missile defense and cyber cooperation.

VIDEO: Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, Japanese Warships Drill Near Korean Peninsula

The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ships are drilling in the Sea of Japan, U.S. 7th Fleet announced. On Tuesday, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and its embarked air wing together with cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG-53) and destroyer USS Spruance (DDG-111) conducted bilateral training with JMSDF destroyers JS Kongō (DDG-173), and JS Inazuma (DD-105) and […]

USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on April 12, 2022 in the Sea of Japan. US Navy Photo

The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ships are drilling in the Sea of Japan, U.S. 7th Fleet announced.

On Tuesday, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and its embarked air wing together with cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG-53) and destroyer USS Spruance (DDG-111) conducted bilateral training with JMSDF destroyers JS Kongō (DDG-173), and JS Inazuma (DD-105) and Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-2 fighters.

“During bilateral exercises between Abraham Lincoln CSG and JMSDF, the two navies strengthen all-domain awareness and maneuvers across a distributed maritime environment. Bilateral operations like this one reassure our allies and partners of the U.S. commitment to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” U.S 7th Fleet said in a social media post.

People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Dongdiao-class surveillance vessel number 794 followed the strike group into the Sea of Japan on Monday, USNI News reported on Tuesday.

The operations come ahead of several key North Korean anniversaries – like the 110th birthday of its late founding leader Kim Il-sung on April 15 and the founding anniversary of the North Korean People’s Revolutionary Army on April 25.

“We are worried that in connection with the upcoming anniversary, [North Korea] may be tempted to take another provocative action,” U.S. State Department special representative for North Korea Sung Kim said last week, according to The Guardian.
“I don’t want to speculate too much, but I think it could be another missile launch, it could be a nuclear test.”

New satellite photos indicate that Pyongyang could be preparing for nuclear testing ahead of the anniversaries, Nikkei Asia reported on Wednesday.

In 2017, the Navy sent three carriers – USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) – along with their escorts and air wings off the coast of Korea, USNI News reported at the time. Those drills coincided with a spate of North Korean ICBM tests during the same period.

Lincoln has been operating mostly in the Western Pacific since deploying from the West Coast in January.

The carrier strike group includes guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG-53), Carrier Air Wing Nine and guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62), USS Gridley (DDG-101), USS Sampson (DDG-102) and USS Spruance (DDG-111).

CVW 9 includes Marine F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters from the “Black Knights” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314.

Carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, USS Miguel Keith Operating in South China Sea

Aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) is on a Manila port visit in Manila after operating in the South China Sea while Expeditionary Support Base USS Miguel Keith (ESB-6) is in the Philippines for the upcoming U.S-Philippines joint exercise Balikatan 2022, while U.S destroyers conducted firing exercises in the Philippine Sea on Thursday. Balikatan 2022 […]

Operations Specialist 2nd Class Nicholas Gonzales, from Lotulla, Texas, stands port lookout watch as the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) pulls into Manila bay, Philippines, for a port visit on March 25, 2022. US Navy Photo

Aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) is on a Manila port visit in Manila after operating in the South China Sea while Expeditionary Support Base USS Miguel Keith (ESB-6) is in the Philippines for the upcoming U.S-Philippines joint exercise Balikatan 2022, while U.S destroyers conducted firing exercises in the Philippine Sea on Thursday.

Balikatan 2022 will run from March 28 until April 8 across Luzon, Philippines and involve 3,800 Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel and 5,100 U.S military personnel according to a U.S Embassy Philippines release issued on Tuesday. “During Balikatan, the U.S. military and AFP will train together to expand and advance shared tactics, techniques, and procedures that strengthen our response capabilities and readiness for real-world challenges,” said Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron, 3rd Marine Division Commanding General in the release.

U.S military aircraft have been arriving in the Philippines over the past week with V-22 Ospreys of VMM-363 and KC-130Js of VGMR-152 arriving at Subic Bay International Airport on March 19 and Pacific Air Force (PACAF) C-17s and C-130s flying in to the airport to deliver equipment and material for the exercise. Miguel Keith is currently operating with CH-53E Super Stallions of HMH-466 and AH-1Z Vipers and UH-1Ys of HMLA-369 embarked.

Abraham Lincoln pulled into Manila Bay for a port visit on Friday after Wednesday’s operations in the South China Sea. Before that, the carrier was operating in the Philippine Sea. A number of U.S surface ships are also operating in the region on independent patrols. Navy released photos showed destroyers USS Dewey (DDG-105) and USS Milius (DDG-69) conducting live firing exercises on Thursday in the Philippine Sea, with Standard Missile 2 (SM-2) Block 3As. Earlier Dewey, Milius, USS Barry (DDG-52), and USS Higgins (DDG-76) were shown by 7th Fleet social media to be operating together on March 15 in the Pacific Ocean. All four destroyers are part of DESRON 15, which is based in Japan. The U.S, Australia and Japan conducted a trilateral exercise in the South China Sea which concluded on March 15. The exercise participants were destroyers USS Momsen (DDG-92) and JS Yudachi (DD-103), frigate HMAS Arunta (FFH-151) and a P-8A Maritime Patrol Aircraft from VP-26. A photo of the exercise with all three ships and the P-8 showed a Chinese warship observing in the background. Yudachi was homeward bound after a deployment to the Gulf of Aden on anti-piracy patrols.

Nearby in the South China Sea region of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) exercise Bersama Shield is ongoing from 19 March to April 22. The joint exercise involves 36 aircraft and three ships, Republic of Singapore Navy Corvette RSS Valour (89), Royal Malaysian Navy Next Generation Patrol Vessel KD Selangor (F176) and Royal Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel HMS Tamar (P233) operating together as a combined task group. 

Marines and sailors aboard the USS Miguel Keith (ESB-5) conduct flight operations ahead of Balikatan 22 Mar. 19, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

Japan reported the sighting of a Russian intelligence gathering ship on Sunday and a Russian destroyer on Tuesday in the Tsushima Strait. In a release on Tuesday, the Joint Staff Office of the Japan Self Defense Force stated that a Russian Navy Vishnya-class intelligence ship was sighted traveling southwest 40 km east-northeast of Tsushima. Then the ship went southward in the Tsushima Strait and was spotted around 70 km southwest of Tsushima. The ship then sailed northward in the Tsushima Strait towards the Sea of Japan. Photos of the ship show the pennant number corresponding to RFS Kareliya (535), which is assigned to Russia’s Pacific Fleet. The release stated that the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force multi-purpose support ship JS Amakusa (AMS-4303) and JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 4 based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi conducted monitoring on the Russian ship.

On Friday, the JSO issued a release stating that a Russian Navy destroyer was sighted at 2 p.m. Thursday traveling south-southwest 210 km northeast of Tsushima.Subsequently the ship sailed southward in the Tsushima Strait toward the East China Sea. The photo of the ship in the release shows the destroyer as RFS Admiral Panteleyev (548) and the release stated missile patrol boat JS Otaka (PG-826) and P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 4 observed the Russian ship.

The French Navy frigate FNS Vendémiaire (F734) is currently operating in the Sea of Japan as part of a deployment to Southeast and Northeast Asia. The ship recently concluded a port call to Busan, Republic of Korea from March 19 to 24. Before that it conducted monitoring surveillance missions in the East China Sea on ships violating the United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea.

Meanwhile the last of the ships involved in relief operations in Tonga have returned home. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Landing Platform Dock CNS Wuzhishan (987) and replenishment ship CNS Chaganhu (967) arrived home on Monday at Zhanjiang, Guangdong while over in Australia, the Landing Helicopter Dock HMAS Canberra (L02) arrived in Townsville on Thursday. Canberra will return to her homeport of Fleet Base East next week, stated an Royal Australia Navy release.

AFRICOM: China, Russia Expanding Influence in Africa

China’s ambitions in Africa are long-term and range from power plants and port investment to new military bases, but Russia, through its use of mercenaries like the Wagner Group, is propping up autocratic regimes and strives for immediate influence across the continent from Libya to Central Africa, the Pentagon’s top commander for the continent said […]

Chinese sailors at the People’s Liberation Army Navy base in Djibouti in 2019. Xinhua Photo

China’s ambitions in Africa are long-term and range from power plants and port investment to new military bases, but Russia, through its use of mercenaries like the Wagner Group, is propping up autocratic regimes and strives for immediate influence across the continent from Libya to Central Africa, the Pentagon’s top commander for the continent said Tuesday.

Army Gen. Stephen Townsend testified, “It was troubling to me that half of the continent” did not vote to condemn the Kremlin for its invasion of Ukraine in a March 2 U.N. vote. Many African nations abstained from the vote, which Townsend described as “biding their time.” One-hundred and forty-one nations condemned the Kremlin attack.

Townsend called Russian mercenaries “a malign influence” on Africa’s politics. “They’re buttressing dictators,” he said. High-level access gives the Kremlin leverage to sway national economies. In addition, he said, Russian oligarchs are using the continent to establish internet “troll farms” to influence policies and elections in Africa and other nations, including the United States.

The Wagner Group and other Russian mercenaries “are present in Libya in numbers,” Townsend said, as the nation suffers from a nasty civil war. Townsend said they are especially noticeable in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s capital and countryside and train commandos there. The mercenaries are exerting influence in Mali, now governed by a military junta, and collaborating with security forces in controlling the countryside.

France cited the military takeover of Mali’s government and the growing influence of the Wagner Group for pulling out of the counterterrorism fight there and possibly reducing its presence in neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, all former French colonies. The United States was providing logistical and intelligence support to the French in its Sahel counterterrorism efforts there.

“I believe the people in Mali are going to regret inviting Wagner in,” Townsend said.

U.N. investigators have linked the mercenaries to atrocities from rape to murder.

On the eastern side of the continent, ever since the United States pulled its forces from Somalia in late 2020, al Shabab – a terrorist organization that has carried out attacks on American embassies in Africa – has gathered strength. Though Townsend declined to elaborate in an open session, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had made his views known inside the Pentagon as to whether the U.S. needed to re-establish a presence in Somalia to monitor the group..

“Deadly terrorism has metastasized” on the continent, he added, including al Shabab. The pullout back to Djibouti and Kenya “caused new challenges” in intelligence gathering and raised “risk to our troops.”

Townsend said he was not seeking new larger bases on the continent like the American one in Djibouti, but a presence in places like Somalia. “Our presence is not dependent on permanent bases,” he added.

“A few troops and a few bucks can go a long way” in Africa, he added.

China, on the other hand, “is working hard to develop more bases there.” Townsend said Beijing is using its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative and interests in minerals vital to high technology manufacturing and energy exploitation as entry points with African governments. They use those to build to military sales and later expand to possible basing.

The United States “is still the partner of choice” for development and military equipment sales, but he and Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of Central Command, told the panel that existing American laws and regulations can be cumbersome in the minds of potential buyers.

The commanders agreed that in those cases, governments turn to the Chinese or Russians, whose military use agreements are less restrictive, but often experience buyers’ remorse over long-term costs and equipment quality.

Townsend said, “our competitors clearly see Africa’s potential” for providing an advantage He added, the continent is “engaged in a struggle between democracy and autocracy.”

Report to Congress on Chinese Naval Modernization

The following is the March 8, 2021, Congressional Research Service Report, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress. From the report In an era of renewed great power competition, China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, has become the top focus of U.S. defense planning and budgeting. China’s […]

The following is the March 8, 2021, Congressional Research Service Report, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

In an era of renewed great power competition, China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, has become the top focus of U.S. defense planning and budgeting. China’s navy, which China has been steadily modernizing for more than 25 years, since the early to mid-1990s, has become a formidable military force within China’s near-seas region, and it is conducting a growing number of operations in more-distant waters, including the broader waters of the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and waters around Europe.

China’s navy is viewed as posing a major challenge to the U.S. Navy’s ability to achieve and maintain wartime control of blue-water ocean areas in the Western Pacific—the first such challenge the U.S. Navy has faced since the end of the Cold War. China’s navy forms a key element of a Chinese challenge to the long-standing status of the United States as the leading military power in the Western Pacific. Some U.S. observers are expressing concern or alarm regarding the pace of China’s naval shipbuilding effort and resulting trend lines regarding the relative sizes and capabilities of China’s navy and the U.S. Navy.

China’s naval modernization effort encompasses a wide array of ship, aircraft, and weapon acquisition programs, as well as improvements in maintenance and logistics, doctrine, personnel quality, education and training, and exercises. China’s navy has currently has certain limitations and weaknesses, and is working to overcome them.

China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, is assessed as being aimed at developing capabilities for addressing the situation with Taiwan militarily, if need be; for achieving a greater degree of control or domination over China’s near-seas region, particularly the South China Sea; for enforcing China’s view that it has the right to regulate foreign military activities in its 200-mile maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ); for defending China’s commercial sea lines of communication (SLOCs), particularly those linking China to the Persian Gulf; for displacing U.S. influence in the Western Pacific; and for asserting China’s status as the leading regional power and a major world power.

Consistent with these goals, observers believe China wants its navy to be capable of acting as part of a Chinese anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) force—a force that can deter U.S. intervention in a conflict in China’s near-seas region over Taiwan or some other issue, or failing that, delay the arrival or reduce the effectiveness of intervening U.S. forces. Additional missions for China’s navy include conducting maritime security (including antipiracy) operations, evacuating Chinese nationals from foreign countries when necessary, and conducting humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HA/DR) operations.

The U.S. Navy in recent years has taken a number of actions to counter China’s naval modernization effort. Among other things, the U.S. Navy has shifted a greater percentage of its fleet to the Pacific; assigned its most-capable new ships and aircraft and its best personnel to the Pacific; maintained or increased general presence operations, training and developmental exercises, and engagement and cooperation with allied and other navies in the Indo-Pacific; increased the planned future size of the Navy; initiated, increased, or accelerated numerous programs for developing new military technologies and acquiring new ships, aircraft, unmanned vehicles, and weapons; begun development of new operational concepts (i.e., new ways to employ Navy and Marine Corps forces) for countering Chinese maritime A2/AD forces; and signaled that the Navy in coming years will shift to a more-distributed fleet architecture that will feature a smaller portion of larger ships, a larger portion of smaller ships, and a substantially greater use of unmanned vehicles. The issue for Congress is whether the U.S. Navy is responding appropriately to China’s naval modernization effort.

Download the document here.

Aussie Big Deck Adelaide Suffers Power Outage During Tonga Aid Operations

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Landing helicopter dock HMAS Adelaide (L01), currently engaged in humanitarian and disaster relief operations in Tonga, has suffered a power outrage, the Australian Department of Defence confirmed today. The outage has not affected the ship’s ability to respond to any requirements in Tonga. The statement from the Australian DOD followed Australian […]

Landing Helicopter Dock HMAS Adelaide sits alongside Nuku’alofa to deliver humanitarian stores and medical supplies as part of OP TONGA ASSIST 22. Australian Defence Department Photo

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Landing helicopter dock HMAS Adelaide (L01), currently engaged in humanitarian and disaster relief operations in Tonga, has suffered a power outrage, the Australian Department of Defence confirmed today.

The outage has not affected the ship’s ability to respond to any requirements in Tonga.

The statement from the Australian DOD followed Australian media reports on the outage. The DOD confirmed that the outage has not impacted food supplies, air conditioning is functioning aboard much of the ship, the sanitation and refrigeration systems are functioning and that the ship is not being towed.

The statement did not say how long the ship has been without power, but Australia’s ABC News reported today that it had been without power for several days already. The DoD statement said the ship turned on back-up power “to restore essential systems.”

“The situation is being closely monitored and the safety of the ship and the embarked personnel remains our highest priority,” the statement said.

“Civilian specialists are on route to conduct an assessment of the affected systems,” it continued.

The power loss is the latest problem to hit the Australian ship. On Tuesday, the DoD confirmed that Adelaide had recorded 23 positive COVID-19 cases, all of which were asymptomatic or displaying mild symptoms. Adelaide arrived in Tonga the next day and conducted a contactless unloading of supplies onto Vanu Wharf in Nuku’alofa, Tonga. The ship is currently standing by offshore waiting for any further request by the Tongan government.

HMAS Adelaide prepares to depart the Port of Brisbane with supplies, vehicles and aircraft and sail for Tonga to provide humanitarian supplies and assistance. Australian Defence Department Photo

On the same day, Japan was also forced to temporarily suspend its air transport relief operations to Tonga from Australia due to COVID-19 cases among its personnel. Operations resumed on Saturday after replacement personnel were flown into Australia.

Australia and New Zealand have both also airlifted relief supplies and conducted disaster damage assessment flights by P-8 Poseidons and P-3 Orions, respectively. China and France have also airlifted relief supplies to Tonga.

Australia, France, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States are coordinating their relief efforts together, while China is operating independently.

New Zealand replenishment ship HMNZS Aotearoa (A11), which has been in Tonga since Jan. 21, has conducted replenishment for U.S. Navy destroyer USS Sampson (DDG-102) and U.K. Royal Navy offshore patrol vessel HMS Spey (P234), both of which have been deployed to Tonga for relief efforts, with Spey conducting a contactless unloading on Wednesday.

https://twitter.com/USNavy/status/1486797420973408260

Tonga is one of the few nations in the world that is COVID-19 free and there are now concerns that personnel assisting in the relief efforts may inadvertently bring the virus to the island nation, where the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano erupted on Jan. 15. The Tongan government has instituted strict protocols mandating all relief supply deliveries have to be contactless and no personnel are to come into contact with the Tongan residents.

A number of ships delivering relief supplies to Tonga are inbound with the People’s Liberation Army Navy landing platform dock Wuzhishan (987) and replenishment ship Chaganhu (967). Wuzhishan and Chaganhu are the latest PLAN ships to get dispatched to Tonga, having left Guangzhou this morning carrying 1,400 tons of supplies and equipment.

Chinese commercial ships from Fiji delivered aid supplies to Tonga on Thursday. In transit to Tonga are Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force landing ship tank JS Osumi (LST-4001), French Navy patrol vessel FNS Arago (P675) and offshore patrol vessel FNS La Glorieuse (P686), and U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752). On scene with Adelaide, Aotearoa, Sampson and Spey is New Zealand offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington (P55) and multi-role support vessel HMNZS Canterbury (L421). Aotearoa will be returning soon to New Zealand for other tasking.

Panel: New U.S. South China Sea Report Designed to Push Back Against Beijing’s Expansive Claims

The State Department’s “Limits in the Seas” is the legal underpinning for Washington to debunk China’s extensive maritime claims in the South China Sea, department officials said. Speaking Monday at an online briefing, Constance Arvis, State Department’s deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Scientific Affairs, said, the report issued this month […]

March 27, 2020 image of a Chinese Installation on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea. Maxar Image

The State Department’s “Limits in the Seas” is the legal underpinning for Washington to debunk China’s extensive maritime claims in the South China Sea, department officials said.

Speaking Monday at an online briefing, Constance Arvis, State Department’s deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Scientific Affairs, said, the report issued this month “can provide information our allies and partners can use” against an increasingly aggressive China and demonstrate that nations who are abiding by the rules of law will not accept Beijing’s bullying behavior and militarization of artificial islands as a fait accompli.

The study, which took two years to complete, “carefully and precisely” examined China claims and found they had “no basis in law.” The claims were inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, she said.

Although the United States is not a signatory to the convention, Arvis said it abides by its provisions.

Jung Pak, deputy assistant secretary for Multilateral Affairs, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, added with $3 trillion worth of commerce passing through the South China Sea it is in the United States’ strategic interest to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific for trade.

“Countries have sailed in the South China Sea for centuries,” said Robert Harris, a State Department legal counsel involved in the project. “There’s nothing provocative about doing this.”

China’s use of its naval militia and coast guard to “harass and intimidate” other nations transiting or working those waters “gravely undermines the rule of law,” Pak said.

She added this report is an important update of a 2014 State Department report on Beijing’s maritime claims. Over the ensuing seven years, Pak described China’s activities as “more aggressive” toward other nations marked by its refusal to accept the findings of an international tribunal in a territorial dispute with the Philippines in 2016.

Harris said, “this was an independent analysis” of China’s maritime claims of much of the South China Sea. A key point in the report is China’s claims over reefs and other subsurface features. He added China’s claims over those “features that are not islands” are without basis in law, although Beijing has built up a number of these and has positioned forces on them.

He also noted the report rejected China’s claims of “historic rights” to the South China Sea, “straight baselines” of territorial control over “entire island groups” and using those baselines to extend its exclusive maritime zones.

In effect, China claims vast parts of the South China Sea as internal waters.

The report states:

“These claims gravely undermine the rule of law in the oceans and numerous universally-recognized provisions of international law reflected in the Convention. For this reason, the United States and numerous other States have rejected these claims in favor of the rules-based international maritime order within the South China Sea and worldwide.”

Pak said, Washington is “committed to freedom of navigation” and overflight in the South China Sea and is working with other nations to assure those practices continue without hindrance.
The report’s footnotes in the executive summary that it is not assessing the merits of China’s or any other nation’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea but is limited to Beijing’s maritime claims.