CLARIFICATION: The PLAN ships bound for RIMPAC were accompanied by two ships from the Stennis Carrier Strike Group, not the entire CSG.
Five ships from the People’s Liberation Army Navy are training with ships from a U.S. carrier strike group ahead of next month’s Rim of the Pacific 2016 exercises, a Navy official confirmed to USNI News on Monday.
Last week the five ship PLAN flotilla linked up with ships from the strike group – centered on carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) — met near Guam and steamed toward Hawaii ahead of July’s international exercises.
According to a list of ships China intended to send to the exercise released by U.S. 3rd Fleet, the PLAN flotilla includes Type 052C guided missile destroyer Xi’an (153), Type 054A guided missile frigate Hengshui (572), fleet oiler Gaoyouhui, the hospital ship Peace Ark and the submarine logistics vessel Changxingdao.
The Stennis CSG includes one Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser and several Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers and has mostly been operating in the South China Sea since April before heading to Hawaii.
The ships working with the Chinese ships from the Stennis strike group were USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) and USS Stockdale (DDG-106).
While underway, the seven ships conducted low-intensity division tactics (DIVTACS) –ships maneuvering in large formations — the official said.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter previewed the exercises earlier this month during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
“In fact, the United States and China plan to sail together from Guam to Hawaii for RIMPAC, conducting several exercise events along the way, including an event to practice search-and-rescue,” Carter said in a speech on June 4.
Later in the speech, Carter used the example of the exercises and China’s participation in RIMPAC as proof the U.S. is looking to expand military to military cooperation with the PLA.
“America wants to expand military-to-military agreements with China to focus not only on risk reduction, but also on practical cooperation. Our two militaries can all also work together, bilaterally or as part of the principled security network, to meet a number of challenges – like terrorism and piracy – in the Asia-Pacific and around the world.”
While Beijing and Washington — and its allies — are at odds over territorial claims in the South China Sea, military to military relations between the PLA and the Pentagon have been largely good since 2014 when Chinese ships joined the multinational RIMPAC for the first time.
When asked by USNI News, U.S. Navy officials did not say if the PLAN had sent a signals and electronic intelligence spy ship along with the invited Chinese flotilla this year.
In 2014, along with five warships, the Chinese sent a Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) ship ships designed to gather electronic and communication data from surrounding vessels and aircraft that monitored the exercise.