USS Chancellorsville Performs South China Sea FONOP, Draws Chinese Protests

The Tuesday passage of a U.S. guided missile cruiser past a disputed island chain in the South China Sea has drawn protests from Beijing and claims that the People’s Liberation Army expelled the ship from Chinese territorial waters. According to U.S. 7th Fleet, USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) sailed past the Spratly Island chain on Tuesday as […]

Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) conducts routine underway operations in the South China Sea, Nov. 29, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Tuesday passage of a U.S. guided missile cruiser past a disputed island chain in the South China Sea has drawn protests from Beijing and claims that the People’s Liberation Army expelled the ship from Chinese territorial waters.

According to U.S. 7th Fleet, USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) sailed past the Spratly Island chain on Tuesday as part of a freedom of navigation operation.

“USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law. At the conclusion of the operation, USS Chancellorsville exited the excessive claim area and continued operations in the South China Sea,” reads the statement from 7th Fleet.
“The freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam and Taiwan.”

China asserts that foreign warships passing within the territorial sea of its claims in the South China Sea require prior approval from Beijing. Under the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention, a warship make an “innocent passage” through another country’s territorial waters with our prior notification.

The Chinese state-supported South China Sea Probing Initiative published satellite images on Twitter showing the cruiser was operating near the Chinese artificial island at Fiery Cross Reef along with a U.S. P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft.

SCS Probing Initiative

Under international law, a warship can transit through a nation’s territorial waters “so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state,” according to Article 19 of the UNLOSC.

In a statement following the transit, the PLA Southern Theater issued a statement claiming Chinese forces drove Chancellorsville out of Chinese territorial waters.

Chancellorsville illegally intruded into the waters adjacent to China’s Nansha islands and reefs without the approval of the Chinese Government, and organized naval and air forces in the Chinese southern theater of the People’s Liberation Army to follow and monitor and give a warning to drive them away,” reads a translation of the statement. “The U.S. military’s actions have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, which is another ironclad proof of its hegemony in navigation and militarization of the South China Sea, and fully demonstrates that the United States is an out-and-out security risk maker in the South China Sea.”

In response, the U.S. Navy pushed back against the Chinese statement.

“The PRC’s statement about this mission is false. USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) conducted this FONOP in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in waters where high seas freedoms apply,” reads a 7th Fleet statement.
“The operation reflects our continued commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a principle. The United States is defending every nation’s right to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as USS Chancellorsville did here. Nothing the PRC says otherwise will deter us.”

The Japan-based Chancellorsville has been operating with the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group in recent months.

The last reported U.S. FONOP in the South China Sea was performed by the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG-65) in July.

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U.S. Destroyer Performs South China Sea FONOP; China Says it Expelled Warship

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer passed near a South China Sea island chain claimed by China as part of a Freedom of Navigation operation and drew complaints from Beijing. USS Benfold (DDG-65) sailed near the Paracel Islands early Wednesday local time in a FONOP and was monitored by the People’s Liberation Army Navy frigate Xianning (500), […]

USS Benfold (DDG-65) sailing past the Paracel Islands on July 13, 2022. PLA Photo

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer passed near a South China Sea island chain claimed by China as part of a Freedom of Navigation operation and drew complaints from Beijing.

USS Benfold (DDG-65) sailed near the Paracel Islands early Wednesday local time in a FONOP and was monitored by the People’s Liberation Army Navy frigate Xianning (500), according to the Chinese Ministry of Defense.

“This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, and Vietnam and also by challenging PRC’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands,” reads a statement from U.S. 7th Fleet.
“At the conclusion of the operation, USS Benfold exited the excessive claim and continued operations in the South China Sea.”

In a statement, the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command complained the transit was a violation of Beijing’s territorial waters around the Paracel chain – called the Xisha Islands by the Chinese.

“The U.S. guided-missile destroyer Benfold illegally broke into China’s Xisha territorial waters without the approval of the Chinese Government, and organized sea and air forces in the southern theater of the People’s Liberation Army Chinese to follow up and monitor and warn them to drive away,” reads the statement from the MoD.
“The U.S. military’s actions have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, seriously undermined peace and stability in the South China Sea, and seriously violated international law and norms governing international relations.”

A Chinese sailor aboard the frigate Xianning monitors USS Benfold (DDG-65) sailing past the Paracel Islands on July 13, 2022. PLA Photo

The U.S. denied the claim from the PLA.

“The PLA Southern Theater Command’s statement is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeastern Asian neighbors in the South China Sea,” reads the statement from 7th Fleet.

The territorial issue specific to the Paracels is China’s claim to a straight baseline around the island chain and requires foreign ships to ask permission to sail between the islands. The U.S. views the seas between the islands as international waters and denies their ships need permission to sail through the chain.

Benfold has been operating with the Japan-based Reagan Carrier Strike Group that began its latest patrol in May. The destroyer performed a similar transit in January.

On Wednesday, 7th Fleet announced that USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) had entered the South China Sea.

Port of Boston gets new connection to Vietnam

Ocean liner Zim will include the Port of Boston in a China-Vietnam trade route.

The Port of Boston will be part of a trade route that starts in Yantian, China, and stops at Cai Mep, Vietnam, according to the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport).

Massport said the new arrangement with international shipping line Zim will benefit New England companies seeking to increase business ties with Vietnam.

Zim’s biweekly service aims to connect Southeast Asia with the U.S. Northeast via the Suez Canal. The rotation will also have stops in Baltimore and New York. 

According to Massport, Vietnam is the third-largest containerized trading partner among the six New England states, following China and India. Currently, Vietnam makes up approximately 7% of annual containerized freight bound to and from New England. Import and exports include furniture, footwear, sporting equipment, apparel, seafood, recycled fibers and paper and pulp.

“A direct call from Boston to Southeast Asia is critical to International Forest Products’ capitalizing on the emerging opportunities we see in that region. This service is a welcome solution for our New England-based exports and set against the backdrop of what has been a challenging 18 months in the supply chain,” said Dan Kraft, president and CEO of International Forest Products, which is headquartered in Foxborough, Massachusetts. 

The new service to Vietnam comes as Massport and state and federal officials have been seeking to expand the Conley Container Terminal through nearly $850 million in investments. The port has three new neo-Panamax cranes, and it has a new berth. These features, as well as a deepened Boston Harbor, have enabled Boston to handle container ships with a capacity of 12,000 to 14,000 twenty-foot equivalent units. 

“We knew being ‘Big Ship Ready’ was essential to attracting new direct services to expand the global offerings for our customers throughout New England,” said Massport CEO Lisa Wieland in a release. “Developing new trade routes has been a top priority and we are proud to bring Zim into the mix of shipping lines we serve. We are committed to support over 2,500 New England importers and exporters that rely on the port, as well as the thousands of workers, and have significantly enhanced our capabilities to handle more cargo and increase our productivity so that Conley can be competitive in the future and allow for continued growth.”

Other improvements to the terminal that have been recently completed or are in progress include the creation of a dedicated freight haul corridor for trucks, new rubber-tire gantry cranes, expanded container storage and other landside improvements.

Massport boasts that the Conley Terminal hasn’t faced the congestion issues plaguing other U.S. coastal ports, with an average truck turnaround time of only 30 minutes currently. 

Services already calling at the Port of Boston include Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which provides direct service from North Europe to Boston with connections to Latin America, the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia, and the OCEAN Alliance (Cosco Shipping, OOCL, Evergreen and CMA CGM), which provides direct service from North Asia.

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German Navy Chief: Frigate Deployment to Indo-Pacific First of Biannual Deployments to Region

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA – The current six-month-plus deployment of German frigate FGS Bayern (F217) to the Indo-Pacific is the initial step toward a regular biannual naval deployment to the region, German Navy Chief Vice Adm. Kay-Achim Schönbach said today. During his speech at the International Institute of Strategic Studies’ 42nd Fullerton Lecture series in Singapore, […]

FGS Bayern at Changi Naval Base, Singapore. German Embassy, Singapore Photo

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA – The current six-month-plus deployment of German frigate FGS Bayern (F217) to the Indo-Pacific is the initial step toward a regular biannual naval deployment to the region, German Navy Chief Vice Adm. Kay-Achim Schönbach said today.

During his speech at the International Institute of Strategic Studies’ 42nd Fullerton Lecture series in Singapore, Schönbach said Bayern’s deployment was to enable the German Navy to familiarize itself with the region, given its last presence here was 19 years ago. He said that, subject to the final decision of the German government, he intends to have German maritime assets deploy to the region on a regular basis, then potentially also in an international format together with European and Transatlantic partner navies.

His intention is to send ships into the region again in 2023.

“This time was just a frigate, as a teaser to prepare for the next time, where there will be two,” the German Navy Chief said.

The 2023 deployment is slated to include a frigate accompanied by an auxiliary ship to support the frigate. Schönbach also said that with the newer F125 Baden-Württemberg-class frigates, the deployment scope could be expanded further, as the ships are capable of remaining in the region for up to two years with a crew rotation in place. The German Navy was in discussions with partners in the region – particularly Singapore along with potentially Japan and South Korea – for the establishment of a non-permanent logistics support hub to facilitate the deployments, Schönbach said.

He noted that while the German Navy would not deploy to the Indo-Pacific in 2022, German Chief of Defence Gen. Eberhard Zorn has announced that German Air Force units, as well as cyber defense units, will deploy to the region in 2022. The Luftwaffe is scheduled to deploy six Eurofighters, three Airbus A330 tankers and three A400M transport aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force’s Pitch Black multinational air combat exercise, scheduled for Sept. 5 through Sept. 23, 2022 in Australia, though Germany is also said to be talking to other countries in the Indo-Pacific about bilateral exercises next year.

Schönbach said that Bayern’s deployment was in line with Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines that has Germany committed to step up its security and defense engagement in the region.

“Germany is committed to strengthening the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific region to ensure that it remains a place of inclusive cooperation. Germany advocates open shipping routes, open markets and free trade, a level playing field while at the same time promoting digitalization, connectivity and human rights,” he said, adding that the deployment of Bayern is intended to underpin the security aspect of Germany’s commitment in the Indo-Pacific.

FGS Bayern at Changi Naval Base, Singapore. German Embassy, Singapore Photo

During the question and answer session, Schönbach was asked about Bayern not transiting the international waters of the Taiwan Strait. He replied that from the beginning, Bayern was not planning to pass through the Taiwan Strait, as this deployment was a step by step progression for the German Navy after a 19-year absence from the region. Schönbach said he would recommend to the German government that it conduct a transit of the Taiwan Strait during the next deployment.

The German Navy Chief said that while Bayern’s independent deployment with a predominantly bilateral format for its activities may appear to be a contradiction of the German government’s emphasis on multilateralism, it was more beneficial to carry out a bilateral approach, given this was the first deployment.

“I, too, thought long and hard beforehand whether it would be advantageous to sail together with our American, British and/or French partners, integrated into an international naval task group,” he said. “In hindsight I am convinced that it has been a good decision to conduct most of the visits in a bilateral format, in particular as this is the first deployment in this context. By doing so, we have been able to intensify the dialogue with our partners to the benefit of all parties involved.”

Schönbach said that while the integration of a German Navy ship into a U.S., United Kingdom or French carrier task group would make sense both on a practical and logistical basis, doing so would depend on feedback from Germany’s regional partners about Bayern’s deployment. As to whether they preferred Germany to conduct its naval engagement bilaterally or as part of a multilateral group, he said: “We don’t want to be here to demonstrate in a group with others or bringing in a European or NATO problem to this region.”

Earlier today, Schönbach and German Ambassador Norbert Riedel formally welcomed Bayern at Changi Naval Base in Singapore. The ship arrived on Monday. Prior to its arrival in Singapore, Bayern’s previous activities included conducting an exercise with Littoral Combat Ships USS Jackson (LCS-6) and USS Tulsa (LCS-16) in the Philippine Sea in October.

In November, the frigate participated in the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s ANNUALEX exercise, which also included participation from the Royal Australian Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy and the U.S. Navy. Bayern also conducted maritime surveillance and monitoring operations in support of the United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea last month. While voyaging to Singapore from its last port call in Busan, South Korea, Bayern was replenished by USNS Yukon (T-AO-202).

The ship will now remain in Singapore until January 2022, when it will leave for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for its next port call.

U.S. Navy Wraps Up Drills With Partners in Philippine Sea, Strait of Malacca

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – The U.S Navy this week completed exercises in the Philippine Sea with multilateral partners and an exercise with Malaysia in the Malacca Strait. The multilateral ANNUALEX exercise hosted by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force concluded on Tuesday. The drills also included the German Navy, the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal […]

Sailors transit the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) after debarking a CMV-22B Osprey, assigned to the “Titans” of Fleet Logistic Support Squadron (VRM) 30, Dec. 1, 2021. U.S. Navy Photo

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – The U.S Navy this week completed exercises in the Philippine Sea with multilateral partners and an exercise with Malaysia in the Malacca Strait.
The multilateral ANNUALEX exercise hosted by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force concluded on Tuesday. The drills also included the German Navy, the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy.

The U.S. participated with aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG57), destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG106), replenishment ships USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204) and USNS John Ericsson (T-AO 194) and an unnamed Los Angeles class submarine.

The German Navy participated with frigate FGS Bayern (F217), the RAN with destroyer HMAS Brisbane (D41) and frigate HMAS Warramunga (FFH152), and the RCN with HMCS Winnipeg (FFH338). Prior to the exercise, Warramunga and Bayern were on separate monitoring and surveillance patrols in the East China Sea in support of United Nations sanctions on North Korea.

JMSDF ships participating in the drills included helicopter destroyer JS Izumo (DDH-183); destroyers JS Inazuma (DD-105), JS Harusame (DD-102), JS Onami (DD-111), JS Teruzuki (DD-116), JS Asahi (DD-119), JS Yamagiri (DD-152), JS Kirishima (DDG-174) and JS Chokai (DDG-176); replenishment ship JS Oumi (AOE-426) and a JMSDF submarine.

The JMSDF also held an exercise with destroyer JS Abukuma (DE-229) and Peruvian Navy corvette BAP Guise (CC-28) on Monday in the East China Sea. Guise is the former Republic of Korea Navy corvette ROKS Suncheon (PCC-767), which was formally transferred over to the Peruvian Navy on Nov. 26 at the Jinhae Naval Base in Korea in a ceremony attended by the Korean Navy Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Boo Suk-jong and Peruvian Navy Commander-in-Chief Adm. Alberto Alcalá. Guise is the second Pohang-class corvette transferred to the Peruvian Navy. BAP Ferré (CM-27), formerly ROKS Gyeongju (PCC-758), was transferred in 2015. Guise is currently in Yokosuka for a replenishment stop before continuing its voyage home, with the ship expected to arrive in Peru the first week of January 2022.

From left, the Royal Malaysian Navy corvette KD Lekir (F 26) and frigate KD Lekiu (FFG 30) and U.S. Navy Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Tulsa (LCS 16) sail in formation during Maritime Training Activity (MTA) Malaysia 2021. U.S. Navy Photo

Over in the Malacca Strait, the U.S Navy and the Royal Malaysian Navy concluded Maritime Training Activity (MTA) Malaysia 2021 on Tuesday. The U.S. Navy participated with the Littoral Combat Ship USS Tulsa (LCS-16) and a P-8A Poseidon, which staged out of the Royal Malaysian Air Force Butterworth in Malaysia. The Royal Malaysian Navy sent frigate KD Lekiu (FFGH30) and corvette KD Lekir (FSG26) for the drills. MTA Malaysia is part of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise series. The U.S. already completed the Indonesia and Brunei phases of the series earlier in November. MTA Malaysia resumed this year with safety mitigation measures after being cancelled in 2020 due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, Russia began its first-ever naval exercise with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The focus for the exercise, known as ASEAN – Russia Naval Exercise (ARNEX) 2021, is “Joint Actions to Ensure the Safety of Maritime Economic Activity and Civil Navigations.”

The exercise will continue through Dec. 3 in Indonesian territorial waters off the coast of North Sumatera. Destroyer RFS Admiral Panteleyev (548) will represent Russia, which is the third country after China and the U.S. to hold naval exercises with the regional body. China conducted exercises with ASEAN in 2018 and 2019, while the U.S. held one in 2019. Neither country has participated in additional exercises with ASEAN since 2019 because of the pandemic.

The Vietnam People’s Navy frigate VPNS Ly Thai To (HQ-012) arrived on Sunday at the Belawan International Container Terminal (BICT) in Belawan, North Sumatra for the exercise. Other ASEAN ships participating in the drills are Bruneian OPV KDB Daruttaqwa (09), Indonesian frigate KRI Raden Eddy Martadinata (331), Malaysian frigate KD Lekiu (FFGH30), Myanmar frigate UMS Kyansitta (F12), Singaporean corvette RSS Vigour (92) and Thai frigate HTMS Kraburi (457).

In other developments, Russian Navy corvette RFS Gremyashchiy (337); submarines RFS Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (B274) and RFS Volkhov (B603); tanker RFS Pechenga; and tug RFS Alatau are making their way through the Sea of Japan. The corvette and submarines were previously part of the Russian Navy’s Baltic Fleet and are now en-route to their new home bases as part of Russia’s Pacific Fleet. They linked up with the two support ships prior to making a port call in Manila, Philippines, on Nov. 16. The Russian ships were sighted 170 kilometers south of Iriomote Island at 4 p.m. on Nov. 23 and subsequently moved north in the sea area between Okinawa and Miyako-jima, according to a Tuesday news release from the Joint Staff Office of the Japan Self-Defense Force.

The group sailed northeast through the Tsushima Strait, heading for the Sea of ​​Japan on Saturday. Japanese P-1s of Fleet Air Wing 4, stationed at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, and P-3C Orions of Fleet Air Wing 5, stationed at Naha Air Base, monitored the Russian ships’ voyages by air. Japanese destroyers JS Abukuma (DE-229), JS Setogiri (DD-156) and JS Sendai (DE-232); minesweeper JS Kuroshima (MSC-692) and patrol boat JS Otaka (PG-826) shadowed the ships on the surface.

U.S. Vinson Carrier Strike Group Drills with Japanese Force in South China Sea

KUALA LUMPUR – While the United Kingdom’s Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) has departed the Western Pacific, there is still a significant amount of maritime activity from deployed naval groups The main body of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Indo-Pacific Deployment 2021 (IPD21) task group, which includes JMSDF helicopter destroyer JS Kaga (DDH-184) and JS […]

Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67), U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57), U.S. Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69), Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Murasame-class destroyer JS Murasame (DD 101), and JMSDF Izumo-class helicopter destroyer JS Kaga (DDH 184) transit together in the South China Sea on Oct. 30, 2021. US Navy Photo

KUALA LUMPUR – While the United Kingdom’s Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) has departed the Western Pacific, there is still a significant amount of maritime activity from deployed naval groups
The main body of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Indo-Pacific Deployment 2021 (IPD21) task group, which includes JMSDF helicopter destroyer JS Kaga (DDH-184) and JS Murasame (DD101), carried out joint training in the South China Sea with the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group from Oct. 29 through Nov. 3. The American CSG includes carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and embarked Carrier Air Wing 2 (CVW 2), cruisers USS Lake Champlain (CG-57) and USS Shiloh, (CG-67) and destroyer USS Milius (DDG-69).

Rear Adm. Dan Martin, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 1, came aboard Kaga for a meeting with Rear Adm. Ikeuchi Izuru, the commander of Escort Flotilla 3, according to an Oct. 30 JMSDF news release. The two commanders discussed the significance of the joint activities of Japanese and U.S. naval forces in the South China Sea.

Following the training, Kaga and Murasame then made a port call in Cam Ranh, Vietnam from Nov. 5 to 7 and conducted an exercise with the Vietnam People’s Navy (VPN) frigate Đinh Tiên Hoàng (HQ-011) upon departure.

Meanwhile, the remaining JMSDF ship of the IPD 21 task group, destroyer JS Shiranui (DD-120), conducted joint training from Oct. 28 through Nov. 4 in the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Japan Sea with American destroyer USS Higgins (DDG-76) and replenishment ship USNS Big Horn (T-AO-198).

Closer to home, JMSDF replenishment ship JS Oumi (AOE-426) conducted training with American destroyer USS Dewey (DDG-105) in the waters off Okinawa last Wednesday. On the same day, USS America (LHA-6) conducted integrated training off the coast of Kyushu with JMSDF helicopter destroyer JS Ise (DDH-182); destroyers JS Harusame (DD 102) and JS Asahi (DD 119); missile patrol boat JS Otaka (PG 826); and minesweepers JS Takashima (MSC 603), JS Harishima (MSC 601) and JS Yakushima (MSC 602).

Meanwhile, several Royal Australian Navy ships have completed their deployments to the Indo-Pacific. Frigate HMAS Ballarat (FFH155) and replenishment ship HMAS Sirius (O266) are now back in Australia after a deployment that saw Ballarat participating in phase two of the Malabar exercise off India and Sirius replenishing RAN and partner nation ships in both the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asian waters.

The deployment is Sirius’s last operational deployment, as the ship will be decommissioned in December. The RAN’s Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2021 (IPE21) task group, comprising of LHD HMAS Canberra (L02) and frigate HMAS Anzac (FFH150), is now heading home. The IPE21 task group departed Australia in late August for a series of engagements with Australia’s partners in Southeast Asia and to participate in the Five Powers Defence Arrangement (FPDA) exercise Bersama Gold. The last official activity for IPE21 was Exercise New Horizon 21 between Anzac and Indonesian Navy frigate KRI I Gusti Ngurah Rai (332) and corvette KRI Malahayati (362). The exercise took place in the Java Sea and Bali Sea from Oct. 31 through Nov. 3.

The Royal New Zealand Navy replenishment ship HMNZS Aotearoa (A11) also returned home, arriving in Auckland on Sunday following an Indo-Pacific deployment that included participating in Bersama Gold. Frigate HMNZS Te Kaha (F77), which was deployed with Aotearoa, is still on deployment. RAN destroyer HMAS Brisbane (D41), currently moored in Japan, and frigate HMAS Warramunga (FFH152) – which is on surveillance patrols in the East China Sea in support of United Nations sanctions on North Korea – are also both still deployed. Brisbane has had a replacement MH-60R Seahawk transported to Japan via a. Royal Australia Air Force C-17 to replace the one it lost in a non-fatal crash in the Philippine Sea in October.

German Navy frigate Bayern (F217) is also in Japan, docking at the Tokyo International Cruise Terminal on Friday, when it was greeted by Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, German Chief of Defence General Eberhard Zorn and German Navy Chief Vice Adm. Kay-Achim Schönbach. In mid-November, Bayern will begin the first-ever German participation in monitoring and surveillance activities in support of the U.N. sanctions on North Korea. New Zealand announced last week that a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft will deploy from Kadena Air Base in Japan to conduct aerial surveillance and monitoring in support of the sanctions. A Canadian Air Force CP-140 maritime patrol aircraft is conducting the aerial mission until mid-November, while a French Navy Falcon 200 is wrapping up its participation in the mission, according to press reports.

Meanwhile, Russian Navy corvette Gremyashchiy (337) and submarines Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (B274) and Volkhov (B603) passed through the Singapore Strait on Friday. The corvette and submarines were previously part of the Russian Navy’s Baltic Fleet and are now en-route to their new home bases as part of Russia’s Pacific Fleet.

Navy Questioning How to Sustain Fleet in High-End Fight, Says Analyst

The Navy is asking itself how the service can sustain the fleet in high-end conflict when it no longer has government-owned or American-flagged merchant vessels feeding forward bases to rely on in wartime, a maritime analyst told an international online forum Thursday. Sal Mercogliano, associate professor of history at Campbell University, said sustainment for the […]

Sailors prepare for a replenishment-at-sea with fleet replenishment oiler USNS Pecos (T-AO-197) in the hangar bay of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on Oct. 18, 2020. US Navy Photo

The Navy is asking itself how the service can sustain the fleet in high-end conflict when it no longer has government-owned or American-flagged merchant vessels feeding forward bases to rely on in wartime, a maritime analyst told an international online forum Thursday.

Sal Mercogliano, associate professor of history at Campbell University, said sustainment for the Navy “has changed fundamentally since 1945.” The shift exposes shortfalls in being able to “logistically support itself” when deployed.

While the Navy remains a global military force, the United States currently ranks 21st in global merchant shipping.

The merchant fleets themselves have changed from being government-owned to held by a few privately-owned companies flying “flags of convenience,” like Panama, Liberia, Hong Kong or the Marshall Islands. Over the same period, the amount of world cargo carried by sea has increased more than 20 times above World War II levels.

The shippers are also moving cargo far more rapidly – both from port to port and from container ship to shore – than they had in the past.

The United States’ decline as a maritime power has had a profound effect on Navy shipbuilding and repair, he said. Mercogliano, who wrote on sealift in December for Proceedings, noted that with commercial orders for large cargo ships flat or falling, there are a shrinking number of private yards available to build auxiliaries like tankers.

USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) sits inside a dry-dock in preparation for launch at Huntington Ingalls Industries Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard on April 16, 2019. US Navy Photo

The impact is noticeable on the number of yards open around the country to repair warships, auxiliaries and Coast Guard vessels. He used the example of the year and a half it took to repair Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) following a collision at sea that killed 10 sailors.

“We let down our guard” on allowing American shipyards to close down, retired Coast Guard Capt. James Howe said at the same forum.

The environment in which these vessels would operate has also changed to potentially being “highly contested,” even in supplying forward bases that supported American and allied military efforts in Korea, Vietnam and Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

“Will those international companies make their vessels available” in a conflict remained unanswered. He added that during the pandemic, cruise lines decided to keep ships in port and lay off crews to wait until they could safely resume business.

Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) move supplies during a vertical replenishment-at-sea with the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Joshua Humphreys (T-AO-188) on March 24, 2020. US Navy Photo

Looking at the readiness of the 61 ships that would provide “surge sealift,” Mercogliano said that when stress-exercised in 2019, only 40 percent of ships meant to be activated were ready to deploy on schedule. The desired reliability rate is 85 percent. The average age of the vessels is 46 years.

In short, “combatant commanders don’t have what they expect” to have at their disposal in a crisis, he said.

Likewise, the ships in the two squadrons that are prepositioned, stationed in the Marianas in the Pacific and at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, are more than 25 years old. “Prepositioning has been a validated concept since the 1990s” when the stores and equipment – as heavy as M-1 tanks – were offloaded for Marines in Desert Storm, Mercogliano said.

But prepositioning is expensive. “You’re paying for them to stand around,” waiting to be used during an emergency and the forces are vulnerable to attack, he noted. Over time, the number of squadrons was cut from three to two. Additionally, “each of these squadrons do not carry the full complement for a Marine brigade that they should carry. They carry about two-thirds” of the expected requirement.

“Unfortunately, this has not been a priority” in shipbuilding plans, Mercogliano noted.

Speaking at the same Kiel University in Germany forum, Howe said “when we go to world-wide operations [from Bahrain since 2002 to the Western Pacific, to drug interdiction and migrant movement in the eastern Pacific and Caribbean], we’re stretched very thin.”

Howe said the active-duty Coast Guard – with 41,000 service members – is “a little big bigger than the New York City Police Department. We have to cover the whole U.S., and the expeditionary operations.” Zeroing in on the eastern Pacific as one area, he said “it is larger than the continental United States.” At any one time, five to 10 Coast Guard and Navy vessels with Law Enforcement Detachments aboard are patrolling the waters known for trafficking cocaine.

He said the Coast Guard is in the midst of a major recapitalization of its sea-going fleet and aviation assets. Using the heavy icebreaker program to illustrate long-term budget impact on a service that usually has sharp curbs on spending, Howe said the cost is running about $800 million per hull.

Cmdr. Jessica Morera, from San Diego, observes supplies being transferred from the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO-187) to the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Sterett (DDG-104) during a replenishment-at-sea with while underway conducting a composite unit training exercise (COMPTUEX) as part of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (CSG) on May 17, 2020. US Navy Photo

While current plans call for three Polar Security Cutters, it would require a 10-year congressional commitment of support for that program alone. “It will be a very hard thing to get through, keep on budget, on schedule,” Howe said.

Howe and Mercogliano said they saw little support in Congress for using foreign shipyards to build the heavy icebreakers. Only Finland and Russia are building them now, but China has shown interest in the market.

The Navy is looking for a “quick fix” in buying and converting foreign-built ships for surge capacity and pursuing an acquisition and construction strategy similar to what it followed after the first Gulf War. Mercogliano said a major difference now in buying foreign vessels is these “ships are built to different standards” than what the military requires.

In re-building an American international ocean-going merchant fleet, he added that the matter comes down to what cargo will be available for these vessels to carry and at what price to shippers, since U.S. labor costs are higher than the Chinese. That cost difference can translate into government subsidies.

Citing naval analyst Alfred Thayer Mahan, Mercogliano said, “true seapower has a commercial and military aspect to it.”

USS John S. McCain Conducts Second FONOp This Week, This Time Off Vietnamese Islands

Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) conducted its second freedom of navigation operation this week, this time challenging excessive maritime claims by Vietnam. McCain “asserted navigational rights and freedoms near Vietnam in the vicinity of the Con Dao Islands in the South China Sea” in a Dec. 24 operation, U.S. 7th Fleet announced. “The […]

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) transits through South China Sea while conducting routine underway operations on Dec. 22, 2020. McCain is forward-deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. US Navy photo.

Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) conducted its second freedom of navigation operation this week, this time challenging excessive maritime claims by Vietnam. McCain “asserted navigational rights and freedoms near Vietnam in the vicinity of the Con Dao Islands in the South China Sea” in a Dec. 24 operation, U.S. 7th Fleet announced. “The ship conducted normal operations within Vietnam’s claimed territorial seas to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access and navigational freedoms consistent with international law.” On Dec. 22, McCain conducted a similar operation near the Spratly Islands, which China, Taiwan and Vietnam all claim. And on Dec. 21, another Japan-based U.S. destroyer, USS Mustin (DDG-89), conducted a Taiwan Strait transit to counter China’s claims to the strait. “U.S. forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis, as they have for more than a century. They routinely operate in close coordination with like-minded allies and partners who share our commitment to uphold a free and open international order that promotes security and prosperity. All of our operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows– regardless of the location of excessive maritime claims and regardless of current events,” reads the 7th Fleet statement. The U.S. has long conducted these freedom of navigation operations, or FONOps, in the South China Sea, though the Defense Department has over recent years taken different approaches to talking about them publicly based on the administration’s position on China and other political factors. This year, though, the Pentagon has been more forthright about discussing the many FONOps happening in the region, which not only push back against China and, on some occasions, Russia, but also against partners like Vietnam. The following is the full statement from U.S. 7th Fleet: SOUTH CHINA SEA – On December 24, USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) asserted navigational rights and freedoms near Vietnam in the vicinity of the Con Dao Islands in the South China Sea. The ship conducted normal operations within Vietnam’s claimed territorial seas to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access and navigational freedoms consistent with international law. U.S. forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis, as they have for more than a century. They routinely operate in close coordination with like-minded allies and partners who share our commitment to uphold a free and open international order that promotes security and prosperity. All of our operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows– regardless of the location of excessive maritime claims and regardless of current events. The international law of sea as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention provides for the certain rights and freedoms and other lawful uses of the sea to all nations. The United States upholds these rights and freedoms as a matter of principle to preserve the freedom of the seas that is critical to global security, stability, and prosperity. As long as some countries continue to assert maritime claims that are consistent with international law as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention and that purport to restrict unlawfully the rights and freedoms enjoyed by all states, the United States will continue to defend the rights and freedoms of the sea guaranteed to all.