A U.S. carrier strike group is holding an anti-submarine warfare exercise with the South Korean and Japanese navies as North Korea holds ballistic missile tests nearby. Meanwhile, the Russian Navy and China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) combined surface action group is now operating near Japan in a move Tokyo officials are calling provocative.
USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), cruiser USS Chancellorsville (DDG-62) and destroyer USS Benfold (DDG-65), along with a U.S submarine, are drilling with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer JS Asahi (DD-119)and Republic of Korea Navy destroyer ROKS Munmu the Great (DDH-976), according to U.S. 7th Fleet.
Earlier this week, Reagan exercised in the East China Sea with Korean destroyers ROKS Munmu the Great (DDH-976), ROKS Gwanggaeto the Great (DDH-971), ROKS Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong (DDG-993) and frigate ROKS Gangwon (FFG-815). The drills come in the midst of a flurry of ballistic missile launches by North Korea. Pyongyang conducted three ballistic missile firing tests, launching one missile on Sunday and two each on Wednesday and Thursday. All the missiles landed in the waters off the eastern coast of North Korea.
In a speech on Wednesday during a visit to destroyer USS Howard (DDG-83), Vice President Kamala Harris said the international rules-based order and norms were under growing threat and named North Korea, Russia and China as the countries responsible. Harris said Russia is attempting to annex the territory of another sovereign nation as part of its war against Ukraine. She said North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile on Sunday is part of its illicit weapons program and violates multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions and that China is undermining key elements of the international rules-based order.
“China has challenged the freedom of the seas. China has flexed its military and economic might to coerce and intimidate its neighbors. And we have witnessed disturbing behavior in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea, and, most recently, provocations across the Taiwan Strait,” she said.
Harris said that China used House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) visit to Taiwan as a pretext for an unprecedented show of military force as a pressure campaign against Taiwan in a series of destabilizing actions.
“And we will continue to fly, sail, and operate undaunted and unafraid wherever and whenever international law allows. We will continue to oppose any unilateral change to the status quo. And we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, consistent with our longstanding policy,” she said.
During a Friday press conference, Japan Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the joint Russian Navy – PLAN group sail around Japan is extremely unusual, is clearly intended as a demonstration against Japan and is a serious concern for Japan’s national security. Hamada added that along with North Korea’s ballistic missile launches this week, the security environment around Japan is becoming increasingly severe. As such, he said the Defense Ministry would continue to exercise vigilance in monitoring and surveilling and take all possible measures for the defense of Japan. The Japanese defense chief also said Japan demonstrated its commitment to safeguarding common interests and prosperity in Friday’s trilateral maritime exercise with the United States and the Republic of Korea.
Hamada also announced that on Saturday, he will participate in the Japan-U.S.-Australia Defense Ministerial Meeting in Hawaii with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles. The three defense chiefs will exchange views on the regional security environment and hold a discussion on specific efforts to strengthen trilateral defense cooperation among the three countries for the sake of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, Hamada said.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Joint Staff Office (JSO) of the Japanese Ministry of Defense issued a news release stating that on Monday at 10 p.m. local time, three PLAN ships were sighted sailing westwards in an area 50 kilometers south-southeast of Sumisu Island, part of the Izu Islands chain located south of Japan’s capital of Tokyo. Hull numbers and images provided in the release identified the ships as cruiser CNS Nanchang (101), frigate CNS Yancheng (546) and replenishment ship CNS Dongpinghu (902). The three PLAN ships subsequently sailed westward in the waters between Sumisushima Island and Torishima Island. On Tuesday at 9 a.m. local time the PLAN ships were 300 kilometers south-southeast of Shionomisaki on the Kii Peninsula, Honshu.
On Tuesday, a Russian Navy destroyer and three corvettes were sighted sailing southward in the waters approximately 160 kilometers east of Inubosaki, Honshu, according to the same release. Hull numbers and images identified the Russian ships as destroyer RFS Marshal Shaposhnikov (543) and corvettes RFS Sovershennyy (333), RFS Gromkiy (335) and RFS Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov (339). At around 11 a.m. local time the Russian ships were sailing southwest in an area about 80 kilometers east-northeast of Mikura Island, which is part of the Izu Islands, and subsequently sailed southwest in the contiguous zone between Mikura Island and Hachijo Island.
Japanese destroyer JS Yamagiri (DD-152), minesweeper JS Chichijima (MSC-605) and a JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) of Fleet Air Wing 4 based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Honshu, monitored the Russian and PLAN ship, according to the release.
On Thursday, the JSO issued another release stating that the Russian and PLAN ships were sighted sailing together as a single formation on Tuesday at 9 a.m. local time. Subsequently, from Wednesday to Thursday, the ships sailed as a mutual formation through the Osumi Strait and into the East China Sea. Japanese destroyers Yamagiri and JS Amagiri (DD-154), multipurpose support ship JS Genkai (AMS-4304) and P-1 MPAs of Fleet Air Wing 4 shadowed the Russian and PLAN ships, the release said.
At 1 p.m. local time on Wednesday, two Russian corvettes were sighted sailing westwards in an area 30 kilometers north of Cape Soya, according to a second Thursday release from the JSO. Hull numbers and images provided identified the corvettes as RFS R-29 (916) and RFS R-261 (991). The two Russian ships sailed west through La Pérouse Strait a JMSDF P-3C Orion MPA of Fleet Air Wing 2 based at JMSDF Hachinohe Air Base, Honshu, monitored them.
On Thursday, Marshal Shaposhnikov, Sovershennyy, Gromkiy and Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov were sighted at 2 p.m. local time sailing northwest in an area 90 kilometers southwest of the Goto Islands archipelago in the East China Sea, according to a Friday news release from the JSO. Subsequently the Russian ships sailed northeast through the Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan. Amagiri and fast attack craft JS Otaka (PG-826), along with a JMSDF P-1 MPA of Fleet Air Wing 4, monitored the Russian ships.
The Russian and PLAN ships have been operating together as a combined surface action group since Sept. 15, though the PLAN surface action group was already operating with Russian ships as part of the Russian military’s Vostok 2022 exercise held from Sept. 1-7. That exercise included a live fire drill on Sept. 2 in the Sea of Japan. Russian replenishment ship Pechenga was originally part of the combined group. but appears to have departed prior to the group’s arrival around Japan.