China Launches Third Aircraft Carrier as U.S. Wraps Major Pacific Exercise

June 17, 2022 1:16 PM
People’s Liberation Army Navy aircraft carrier Fujian on June 17, 2022. Xinhua Photo

China launched its third aircraft carrier on Friday, as the United States wrapped up its Valiant Shield 2022 exercise.

Meanwhile, Chinese and Russian ships have been operating around Japanese waters this week, the Japan Ministry of Defense said in news releases.

On Friday morning, China launched its third aircraft carrier, named Fujian (18), carrying hull number 18, at Jiangnan Shipyard of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation in Shanghai, reported the People’s Liberation Army’s official media channel, China Military Online.

The 80,000-ton carrier is China’s first flat deck carrier and uses Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS)-powered catapults to launch its aircraft, in contrast to the ski jump of its other two carriers. The EMALS system can launch heavier aircraft, such as the J-35 fighter and airborne early warning aircraft, to operate off its flight deck.

Fujian is named after the closest Chinese province to Taiwan, which lies east of the province and is separated by the Taiwan Strait. China has been steadily building its carrier capabilities, with carrier CNS Liaoning (16) conducting an extensive training period in May that lasted more than two weeks in the Pacific Ocean. Fujian, once fully operational, with its greater capacity and capabilities, will further enhance the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) power capabilities and allow the PLAN to field a total of three carrier strike groups, matching the normal two to three U.S. CSG presence in the Asia Pacific. The PLAN is expected to build additional carriers for service as well.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Joint Staff Office (JSO) of the Ministry of Defense announced on Tuesday that two PLAN destroyers, along with a replenishment ship, were sighted 200 kilometers west of Fukue Island, Nagasaki Prefecture at noon on Monday at noon. Hull numbers and images in the release correspond to destroyers CNS Lhasa (102) and CNS Chengdu (120) and replenishment ship CNS Dongpinghu (902). The three ships then proceeded northeast, through the Tsushima Strait, and sailed into the Sea of Japan. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) multipurpose support ship JS Amakusa (AMS-4303), fast attack crafts JS Hayabusa (PG-824) and JS Shirataka (PG-829), along with a JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) from Fleet Air Wing 4 based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, monitored the passage of the PLAN ships, according to the release.

Dongpinghu, together with a Dongdiao-class surveillance ship carrying the hull number 794, were sighted sailing northeast in the waters about 130 kilometers south-west of Tappizaki, Aomori Prefecture at 9 a.m. on Thursday, a JSO release said. The two ships subsequently sailed through the Tsugaru Strait and were the same ones sighted earlier on Monday and Sunday respectively, the release added. JMSDF multipurpose support ship JS Suo (AMS-4302) and a JMSDF P-3C Orion MPA from Fleet Air Wing 2 based at JMSDF Hachinohe Air Base monitored the PLAN ships.

The JSO issued a second news release on Thursday that said seven Russian Navy ships were sighted 280 kilometers southeast of Cape Nedelin (Hokkaido) at noon on Wednesday. The Japanese government identified the ships by hull numbers and class types corresponding to destroyers RFS Marshal Shaposhnikov (543) and RFS Admiral Panteleyev (548); corvettes RFS Sovershennyy (333), RFS Gromkiy (335), RFS Gremyashchiy (337); RFS Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov (339) and missile range instrumentation ship RFS Marshal Krylov. The ships were then 180 kilometers southeast of Inubosaki, Chiba Prefecture at 9 a.m. on Thursday. JMSDF destroyers JS Yudachi (DD-103) and JS Kongo (DDG-173) monitored the Russian ships, the news release said.

The Russian ships are all assigned to the Russian Pacific Fleet and the Russian Ministry of Defense has previously announced that the Russian Pacific Fleet would conduct a large-scale exercise, starting June 3, involving more than 40 ships and about 20 aircraft in the Pacific Ocean and the waters around the Kuril Islands.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces on Friday completed the 12-day Valiant Shield 2022 exercise, which included joint operations across the sea, land, air and cyber domains sea, according to a Defense Department news release. The biennial exercise included drills throughout the Joint Region Marianas in Guam, with some parts of the exercise happening on the Northern Mariana Islands.

“This exercise was the perfect opportunity to conduct integrated deterrence, which was the cornerstone of our approach,” Rear Adm. Robb Chadwick, the Valiant Shield 22 Joint Exercise Control Group Director, said in the news release. “We combined our efforts across all warfighting domains and the spectrum of conflict to ensure that the United States, alongside our allies and partners, could dissuade or defeat aggression in any form or domain.”

An F-35B Lightning II aircraft assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, sits aboard amphibious assault carrier USS Tripoli (LHA-7) on June 10, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan carrier strike groups, along with amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LHA-7) participating in Valiant Shield, USNI News previously reported.

The exercise included the U.S. Marine Corps’ Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which conducted a HIMARS Rapid Infiltration (HI-RAIN) with a C-130 Hercules from the Air Force National Guard, according to the Pentagon news release.

“The inclusion of the HI-RAIN mission significantly increases the lethality of precision fires and survivability of the HIMARS launcher, crew, and aircraft due to the reduced exposure to hostile fires,” the release said.

The drills culminated with a sinking exericse, or SINKEX, with the ex-USS Vandegrift (FFG-48).

“SINKEX participants included Carrier Air Wing 5 embarked aboard the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), who conducted long-range maritime strikes from fixed and rotary-wing aircraft. Seventh Fleet, embarked aboard the USS Tripoli (LHA 7), directed the task forces in the execution of a complete live-fire process,” the news release reads. “USS Benfold (DDG 65) launched a targeted surface-to-surface missile, which was a significant impact in the sinking of the Vandegrift. USS Key West (SSN 722), along with B-1B Lancers from the 28th Bomb Wing, and F-18s & F-35Bs from the Marine Fighter Attack Squadrons (VMFA-533 and VMFA-121) also participated in the SINKEX.”

A number of non-U.S. naval ships have arrived in Guam to rest and replenish before continuing their voyage to Hawaii for the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 exercise, set to begin in Hawaii on June 29 and continue through Aug. 4. The ships include Indian Navy frigate INS Satpura (F48), Philippine Navy frigate BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151), Indonesian Navy frigate KRI I Gusti Ngurah Rai (332) and Royal Malaysian Navy corvette KD Lekir (FSG26).

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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