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Two U.S. Destroyers Sail Through Taiwan Strait

USS Benfold (DDG-65) and USS Mustin (DDG-89). US Navy Photo

Two U.S. guided missile destroyers transited the Taiwan Strait this weekend, a U.S. defense official confirmed to USNI News on Saturday.

The Japan-based destroyers, USS Mustin (DDG-89) and USS Benfold (DDG-65), entered the 110-mile wide strait between mainland China and Taiwan on Saturday local time.

“Two U.S. Navy ships conducted a routine transit through the international waters of the Taiwan Strait on July 7-8,” U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Charlie Brown told USNI News on Saturday. “U.S. Navy ships transit between the South China Sea and East China Sea via the Taiwan Strait and have done so for many years.”

Brown wouldn’t confirm any additional details of the transit. The Taiwan Ministry of Defense identified the destroyers in a statement to local press. The government in Taipei stated they monitored the transit, in the statement.

Officials would not confirm if there was a People’s Liberation Army Navy response to the transit of both ships. U.S. ships operating in the South China Sea are typically monitored and shadowed by PLAN warships.

In a tweet, the Chinese government-controlled Global Times indicated the ships were at least shadowed by Chinese vessels.

“The U.S. is aggravating Taiwan Strait tensions,” read the tweet. “The PLA Navy must have monitored the situation and has it under control, a military affairs expert said after two U.S. Navy vessels sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Saturday.”

The transit of Benfold and Mustin is the first U.S. Navy transit of the Taiwan Strait since July 2017. Then, the Japan-based destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) made the passage. The last time a U.S. aircraft carrier made the passage was in 2007 by USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63).

In June, newswire Reuters reported the Pentagon was working to resume at least periodic warship transits of the Taiwan Strait as a sign of support for Taiwan. Beijing has stepped up military exercises around Taiwan this year, which it views as a breakaway province and not an independent country.

  • johnbull

    Good news. Show the flag in support of an ally without being belligerent. Now where’s our friendly neighborhood China troll?

  • ew_3

    And perhaps an SSN with them with their towed array out to see if there was any unseen ChiCom response.

    • Ser Arthur Dayne

      I hear that but does not the Benfold have a towed-array as well?

    • Duane

      Pretty good possibility you’re right.

  • Bulldogdriver

    Nice option to practise. Much is said about how vulnerable US ships are in the narrow confines of Taiwan Straits to the thousands of ASCMs and ASBMs China has.

    But with stealthy F-35s providing airborne sensor coverage for the ships to go completely passive while engaging air and surface targets OTH with its SM-6 and the new active radar homing ESSM, a couple of DDGs can give China a taste of facing some ‘double-digit SAMs’ at their doorsteps.

    I am pretty sure there is at least one SSN lurking beneath the waves to clear the undersea battlespace in collaboration with the ships’ organic MH-60Rs and ASQ-89v15 ASW system.

    • tteng

      Taiwan strait’s avg depth is about 50-60m. If you stick a Virginia on its end, half of it will be above water. Also, at midpoint of strait, out of a passenger plane window one can take in both mainland and Taiwan coasts (about 120km apart) with sea-going ships plainly identifiable below. I’m a layperson, but Taiwan strait doesn’t look safe to any combatant.

      • Duane

        Funny, in all the patrols I made in a 637 class SSN, we never stood our boat on its tail and stuck out our nose above water. Must be a PLAN submarine tactic.

        I do remember operating stealthily submerged in water depths of less than 30 meters for weeks a time on one of our missions. It’s not easy but it’s no problemo. The block III and later Virginias now use fly by wire controls giving greater operating precision in the shallows.

        Submariners always prefer deep water but we salute and do our duty.

  • Pete Novick

    In 1996, during what is now referred to as the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, the Republic of China (Taiwan) held its first open presidential election, during which one of the major political parties, the Democratic People’s Party (DPP), openly called for Taiwan to declare itself an independent country, separate from China and no longer subject to the notion of “Two Countries, One China.”

    In addition to many hostile military maneuvers designed to intimidate Taiwan voters, the PRC conducted missile exercises, launching missiles that flew over the northern part of Taiwan and fell into the sea.

    The United States ordered two carrier strike groups, USS Nimitz Strike Group and USS Independence Strike Group, to transit the Taiwan Strait, the ocean area separating Taiwan from China.

    On October 26, 2006, a Chinese Navy Song class diesel-electric submarine surfaced within five miles of the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) in international waters in the vicinity of Okinawa, Japan. Though the carrier was steaming with destroyers equipped with advanced sonar capabilities, the Chinese submarine went undetected until it surfaced.

    On October 24, 2015, another Chinese diesel-electric submarine, thought to be an Improved Kilo class submarine, (aka Project 636, improved Kilo, purchased from Russia), allegedly “stalked” USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) for several hours in international waters off Japan, where the carrier is forward deployed.

    Looks like a constant bearing, decreasing range situation.

    • BobtheGrape

      Looks like we aren’t able to protect our huge, expensive, white elephant aircraft carriers from diesel-electric submarines. What would have happened in these two instances if the PRC was up to no good? We would have been operating without the CV-63 AND THE CVN-76 and all their crews. Don’t ya think?

      • Duane

        No – I absolutely guarantee that that Chinese sub was sensed and tracked by a combination of airborne, surface, and submarine ASW assets that are part of every CSG every time a CVN goes to sea.

        If the Chinese sub had made any aggressive moves, including opening its outer torpedo tube doors (easily heard on passive sonar), she’d have been immediately attacked and never heard from again.

        There is no physical means by which we can prevent a foreign sub from mingling with a CSG in peacetime, short of sinking her.

        By the way, even if a foreign sub managed to get off a torpedo warshot against a CVN, which torpedo itself is easily detected and immediately gives away the location of the sub, every US surface warship has extensive torpedo detection and countermeasures systems. A torpedo shot does not necessarily produce a hit, and in most instances it won’t.

        • tteng

          In war time, if one or several $0.4B-per AIP boats work themselves among multi-billions CBG, they are going to let loose everything they have in addition to broadcast CBG’s whereabouts. It’ll be a war of planned attrition.

          • Duane

            AIP boats are far less capable than any US SSN. They cannot “let loose”, because they are even slower than old WW2 era diesel boats submerged (no more than 5 knots). They are so slow they cannot set up an attack approach on a fast moving US warship (a they are all fast today, especially the carriers) and would have to depend upon sheer luck, as in the CSG would have to run right over them. And though AIP boats may be inherently quiet, they cannot evade an active sonar search that bounces pings off their hulls just like on every other submerged sub.

            AIPs are mostly hype, and must operate close to shore due to their very slow speeds and short endurance (a few weeks max). And they are still detectable. Especially by US SSNs that accompany every CSG.

          • tteng

            Have you ever watched Russian movies about Soviet infantryman fighting German Panzers: let German tanks overrun its position, spring up and rush the tank from every which direction with anti-tank grenades and whatnot. (or reverse scenario in later half of eastern front). AIP boats don’t have to be as good as SSNs; they just have to be good enough to be in the path of CBG (or good enough to obstruct CBGs from coming int A2AD’s littoral water). Modern AIPs can launch AShM (both supersonic and subsonic) as well as torps. And if enough of them are built (judging how fast PLAN building their surface fleet), number alone can be trouble.

            And I don’t know what you mean ‘AIPs are hype’; what about European ones (supposedly having taken hull shots of their prey in war games), or Japanese Soryus..do you think those are hypes
            Also, a SSN runs about $2.5B or 5-6x of an AIP; it is entirely possible that there will be a lot more AIPs than SSNs in the same hunting ground, a game of attrition trade-off.

          • Duane

            You do not comprehend what I wrote above. If you are going to make claims about the perfomance of AIP submarines in actual combat, do your homework. Like figure out how a sub moving at just 5 knots submerged on patrol can cover only 1/25th of the sea area of a 25-kt SSN on patrol – it’s math. To find a CSG a AIP must get very lucky.

            And consider how, if an AIP boat manages to detect a CSG steaming along at 25 knots, it will be able to position itself to make an approach and attack when it can only do a turtle slow 5 knots. That is what I mean about such a slow sub depending mostly on luck to ever get into a position to fire a torpedo at a CVN. As for firing a ASCM, that of course is a weapon that will be detected and heavily defended against by countefires and ECM.

          • tteng

            Explain to me,
            1. how did European AIPs ‘scored hits’ against CBG’s with SSN escorts?
            2. how will Soryus be used against fast moving surface ships (to prevent PLAN from breaking out the 1st island chain?)

          • Centaurus

            We’re coming up with anti-torpedo torpedoes

  • hrcint

    The ChiComs wouldn’t challenge them for fear of being rammed by accident.
    Sarcasm regarding the current state of seamanship aside, this is a good show of the flag.
    Old reserve OOD/NAV/XO

  • .Hugo.

    good show of the flag when the chinese navy sails through many parts of the ocean, including surrounding the entire taiwan province, these days too. 🙂
    .

    • Duane

      Except that we Americans don’t make a big stink when PRC vessels slink around our seas, ports, and vessels uninvited. It makes a big difference when one nation defends free transit, and another one insists on restricting access.

      • .Hugo.

        because you could not make a big stink when the chinese navy was conducing innocent passage as defined in unclos, while the u.s. navy was conducing the so-called “freedom of navigation”, i.e. a military operation, defined nowhere in unclos.
        .

        • SDW

          The term “innocent passage” doesn’t apply to sailing in international waters. It does apply to, for example, the Singapore Straits where the territorial seas of the two sides overlap in the shipping channel. It means, basically, that the transiting ship not do anything unrelated to the transit itself. The UNCLOS includes innocent passage (part II, section 3) as do other, binding customary maritime law. Innocent passage is not a matter only for warships. It is the nature of the passage that is innocent, not the ship performing the transit.

          The term “Freedom of Navigation Operations” is a US term to characterize sailing wherever it is legal to do so in order to maintain the right (or claim of the right) to do so. Sometimes it is merely sailing in international waters while other FONOPS consist of innocent passage.

          • .Hugo.

            so thanks for confirming that the u.s. has no right to interfere with the chinese navy’s legitimate transiting along the alaskan coast. 🙂
            .
            as for the u.s. naval operation in the chinese eez, you have forgotten (or intentional?) to mention article 58.3:
            .
            “In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone, States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the coastal State and shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of this Convention and other rules of international law in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part.”
            .
            so how is fonops allowed? certainly no chinese maritime law has endorsed the u.s. action.
            .
            i guess by refusing to sign on unclos, the u.s. just wants to cherry pick on whatever unclos benefits that it can exploit?
            .

    • Centaurus

      Lets test fire the Standard SM-6 in Taiwan Strait.

      • .Hugo.

        sure, and china can also test fire lots of long range rockets (e.g. ar-3 and sy-300 and ws-3a, not even missiles yet) which can cover the entire west coast of taiwan including taipei. let’s see how the sm-6 can intercept all of these tiny and fast rockets.

  • RDF

    They didn’t “Sail”, or “steam”, I guess they motored? What do you call it on marine turbine propulsion?

    • Douglas L. George

      Navy parlance is steam or sail. Type of propulsion not withstanding.

      • Clark Cumings Johnson

        Sail, actually….

        • Duane

          That’s why they called us “sailors”, even on subs.

          • E1 Kabong

            “Submariners.”…

          • Duane

            We never used that term when I served. We always referred to ourselves as either “sailors” or as “sub sailors”.

            Surface ship sailors we called “skimmers” or “airdales” as applicable, unless they were SEALs.

          • E1 Kabong

            SURE you were…

      • RDF

        Well God forbid I had a parlance violation.

  • RDF

    I cannot think of a worse place to get two small boys attacked. Asking for it. Confined space bad.

    • Douglas L. George

      110 mile wide strait is hardly a confined space. Did you ever do sea duty?

      • RDF

        How long does a hi-mach cm take to cross say… 60 miles of that? Yah… 3 min. Yes I was a Naval Officer. 2 small boys out on a limb.. Nice…. When we SUCAPed sov surface fleet we felt the same way. Alone. And exposed.

      • RDF

        it looks from a chart like some of the navigable channel is less than 5.

    • Duane

      The only “confining shoreline” belongs to the Republic of China, our friend in that neighborhood. They have a pretty competent military, with largely US-supplied ships, subs, and aircraft.

  • proudrino

    This seems to be a pretty routine Freedom of Navigation exercise to me. Is it newsworthy because two Japan-based US Navy destroyers were able to transit restricted waters without hitting another vessel?

    Bottom line: The US Navy transited international waters. They were shadowed, as usual, by PLAN warships- as was expected. Nothing to see here.

    • NsTiG8r

      Unless you’re a member of the Chinese communist regime. They never have recognized any part of the Strait of Taiwan as “international waters” just as they continue to stake their claim on Taiwan itself. They consider this type of “routine freedom of Navigation exercise” as a threat to normal relations.

      • .Hugo.

        or maybe the dpp tsai government in taiwan has failed to make a big show out of it? 😀
        .

  • proudrino

    And the Chinese Navy operating warships and subs just outside American waters is what? Tourism? This was nothing more than a routine Freedom of Navigation exercise that has been going on for decades. Anybody who claims that it is warmongering is nothing more than a hater of this administration’s policies. Not an intellectually strong place to be standing.

    • Duane

      This has nothing to do with “this administration’s policies”. The US Navy has been doing FONOPs ever since the end of WW2, actually going back to the days of the Continental Navy … every administration has done them.

  • Harlan Miller

    Why is this news? It used to be a matter of routine. It is obviously international waters, and spacious ones at that. I can remember several routine, unremarked, transits from around 1960.

  • Lazarus

    Its an international strait open to traffic. It does not “belong” to the PRC.

    • Centaurus

      Anything to PISS-off the PLAN makes everyone happy. F*** Xi Shenping or whatever.

    • .Hugo.

      when has china restricted the traffic in the taiwan strait?
      .
      the only country which has actually restricted traffic in the region was the u.s., not china.
      .

  • coakl

    If Taiwan completes their submarine development program and start producing their own boats, in quantity, China’s dreams of reconquering Taiwan will be over.
    25 subs or so (decommission some of the surface fleet to pay for it).
    We will sell Taiwan some Mark 48’s to arm them.

    China knows this, so any attempt to invade must take place before Taiwan’s new subs are ready.

    • Duane

      ROC has quite a few ASCMs deployable from their surface ships, aircraft, and land-based launchers that would likely defeat any amphibious landing. Their best defense, however, is the Taiwan Strait itself, just as was the English Channel for the Brits, and two oceans have been for us here in the USA.

      • .Hugo.

        then the roc better hid the launchers properly for they will all be destroyed before the landing. 🙂
        .
        the taiwan strait itself can’t stop massive waves of chinese rocket and missile attacks though…. 🙂
        .

    • .Hugo.

      who foot the bill? who can build the industry and sustain?
      .
      china’s dream is not reconquering tawian, for taiwan is not occupied by a foreign power but just another chinese government.
      .
      are you saying that taiwan’s surface vessels are not equipped with mark 48?
      .
      china will know exactly where the taiwanese subs are anyway, so it makes no difference.
      .

  • E1 Kabong

    Why that drone hasn’t been banned yet, is a mystery.

  • DaSaint

    Please share!

  • RDF

    Ok. Yours is bigger.

  • NavySubNuke

    If you ever actually did such a thing it would be wise to remember why those who actually earned their dolphins are considered part of the silent service and keep your mouth shut.

    • Duane

      Obviously you never did such a thing. The fact that we went into Soviet harbors was reported publicly two decades ago in the book, “Blind Man’s Bluff” by Sherry Sontag based upon hundreds of interviews with Cold War SSN officers.

      Keep your own mouth shut, troll.

      • NavySubNuke

        Actually it was alleged in an unauthorized and unapproved publication based on interviews with alleged veterans who (if the stories are true – which no one with a clearance should ever confirm or deny) either out if ignorance, pride or both chose to violate the NDAs they signed and reveal classified information.
        “Obviously you never did such a thing”
        Any real submariner who remembers his oaths and cares about his brothers (and now sisters) would never actually reveal whether or not they had done such a thing.

        • Duane

          Whine all you want, but the Russians and before them the Soviets knew this stuff decades ago. You are just posturing. Give it up. And yes, hundreds of guys with security clearances described what happened two decades ago to Ms. Sontag. All national security information eventually gets released officially or disclosed unofficially eventually.

          • NavySubNuke

            I realize to an ignorant old fool who has no idea what he is talking about it doesn’t matter — but to those of us who actually care about the lives of our sailors and the fate of our nation it does matter.
            There is a reason the details of what learned about the S5W reactor are still classified. There is a reason the US has never actually acknowledged or released corroboration of any of the alleged missions described in blind mans bluff.
            I realize you aren’t smart enough to understand the implications of what I am talking about but do yourself a favor and remember why submarines are called the silent service sometime.

      • NavySubNuke

        It really boggles my mind that POS like you somehow survived on a submarine. I can only imagine how grateful every member of your crew was (assuming you actually did serve which is rather doubtful) was the day you left the ship and they no longer had to listen to your ignorant foolishness.

  • NavySubNuke

    “A tremendous amount of change in geopolitics and technilogy probably renders most of the details of no use to Russians today, but I still will keep the details to myself”
    If you had any real knowledge you would understand why that isn’t necessarily true and why it could matter to more than the Russians. We don’t live in a bipolar world any longer after all.
    You really should try to remember your duty to your fellow submariners (assuming you aren’t lying about being one) and shut up before you post things like this.

  • John Burtis

    Proudly going where President Obama and SecNav Mabus feared to tread.