A People’s Liberation Army Navy surface action group is continuing its circumnavigation of Japan ahead of the annual G-7 summit later this month in Hiroshima.
The surface action group – which includes cruiser CNS Lhasa (102), destroyer CNS Guiyang (119), frigate CNS Zaozhuang (542) and fleet oiler CNS Taihu (889) – was sighted at midnight on Thursday sailing southwest in an area 56 miles east of Sumisu Island, part of the Izu Island chain that lies south of Japan’s capital of Tokyo. The SAG then sailed west between Sumisu Island and the island of Tori-Shima, according to the Joint Staff Office of Japan’s Ministry of Defense. The group previously transited northeast through the Tsushima Strait on April 30 and northeast through La Pérouse Strait, which separates Hokkaido from Russia’s Sakhalin Island, on May 6. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Suzunami (DD-114) shadowed the PLAN ships, according to the release.
Destroyer CNS Qiqihar (121) had been part of the PLAN group when it transited Tsushima Strait and subsequently La Pérouse Strait, but the JSO did not mention the ship’s current location in its Thursday news release. Qiqihar was sighted sailing southwest on Friday at 9 p.m. local time in an area 50 miles southeast of Smith’s Island and from Friday to Saturday sailed west between Sumisu Island and the island of Tori-Shima, according to a Monday news release from the JSO. A JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) of Fleet Air Wing 4 based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi on the main island of Honshu shadowed the PLAN destroyer.
The movement of the PLAN ships comes ahead of the G-7 summit scheduled for May 19 through 21 in Hiroshima, Japan. Chinese media said the movement was a message to Japan following various remarks by Japan’s leaders about Taiwan. Last year in May, Chinese and Russian bombers conducted a joint flight the same day U.S. President Joe Biden was meeting his Australian, Indian and Japanese Quad grouping counterparts in Tokyo. So far, beyond the releases, Tokyo has not issued any statements about the PLAN ships movements. Japan Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada made no comments on the ships in his regular press conferences on Tuesday and Friday, though the transcripts also showed that reporters did not ask about the ships.
Meanwhile, Russian Navy corvettes RFS Sovershennyy (333) and RFS Gromkiy (335), along with a Dubna-class fleet oiler, were sighted on Friday at 10 a.m. local time sailing southwest in the Sea of Japan at an area 50 miles northeast of Tsushima, JSO said in a Friday news release. The three ships subsequently sailed southwest through the Tsushima Strait and entered the East China Sea. Fast attack craft JS Shirataka (PG-829) and a JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) of Fleet Air Wing 4 monitored the Russian ships.
On May 9th, we started the “trial operations of unmanned aerial vehicles” at Hachinohe airport.
In order to secure Japanese nationals and their peaceful livelihoods, the JMSDF will fundamentally reinforce its defense capabilities. pic.twitter.com/IvTZ6euiDJ
— Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (@jmsdf_pao_eng) May 9, 2023
On Tuesday, the JMSDF announced that it started an unmanned aerial vehicle trial program at JMSDF Hachinohe Air Base, which is located in the northern part of the main island of Honshu. The trial involves a single General Atomics MQ-9B Sea Guardian, which is under lease from the company. The program will assess whether Japan can utilize unmanned systems in the JMSDF missions and replace manned assets, particularly for surveillance and early warning. No set date has been announced for the completion of the trial. The Japan Coast Guard also currently operates a single MQ-9B, which is stationed at JMSDF Hachinohe, and has received funding under the Fiscal Year 2023 budget to buy two more systems.
Meanwhile, a number of ships from various navies are conducting or wrapping up engagement and exercises in the region. The U.S Navy and the Royal Thai Navy began exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Thailand 2023 on April 8, according to a Navy news release issues last week.
“CARAT Thailand is a bilateral maritime exercise taking place ashore in Sattahip and at sea in the Gulf of Thailand,” U.S. 7th Fleet said in the news release. “The Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Mobile (LCS 26) with embarked MH-60R Seahawk will meet the RTN frigates HTMS Naresuan (FFG 421), HTMS Bangpakong (FFG 456), and HTMS Kraburi (FFG 457) at sea.”
The Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) exercise Bersama Shield, taking place in the waters off Singapore and the southern east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, concluded on Friday. The FPDA nations include Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom. The sea and air warfare defense drills started on April 27. Royal Australian Navy (RAN) frigate HMAS Anzac (FFH150), Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) corvette KD Lekir (FSG26) and fast attack craft KD Gempita (3514), Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) corvette RSS Vigilance (90), two maritime surveillance aircraft, seven support aircraft, twenty fighter aircraft and two Ground Based Air Defence units participated in the exercise.
Meanwhile, navies of the Association of South East Asian Nations will wrap up the second ASEAN Multilateral Naval Exercise (AMNEX) hosted by the Philippines on Tuesday after a two day sea-phase on Saturday and Sunday. The sea phase took place in the waters off Zambales and Bataan in the Philippines. Ships participating included Indonesian Navy frigate KRI I Gusti Ngurah Rai (332), Philippine Navy frigate BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) and offshore patrol vessel BRP Andres Bonifacio (PS-17), Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) frigate RSS Supreme (73), Royal Brunei Navy (RBN) offshore patrol vessel KDB Daruttaqwa (09) and patrol boat KDB Afiat (20), Royal Malaysian Navy frigate KD Lekiu (FFGH30), Royal Thai Navy offshore patrol vessel HTMS Pattani (511) and Vietnam People’s Navy (VPN) frigate VPNS Tran Hung Dao (HQ-015).
Today, we welcomed for the first time to our shores, the @RoyalNavy’s Batch 2 River-class offshore patrol vessel, HMS Spey.
After departing #DevonportNavalBase, Spey will visit Wellington before heading back to the Indo-Pacific.#NZNavy pic.twitter.com/dbmrTgQ7Gu
— Royal NZ Navy (@NZNavy) May 10, 2023
Italian Navy offshore patrol vessel ITS Francesco Morosini (P431) concluded a four-day port visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on Friday and is now headed to Bangkok for a port engagement as part of Italy’s presence and regional engagement deployment to the Indo-Pacific region.
Meanwhile, JMSDF frigate JS Kumano (FFM-2), the Third Surface Unit of the JMSDF Indo-Pacific Deployment 2023 (IPD23), concluded a port visit to Jakarta, Indonesia on Friday after arriving on Tuesday. Kumano also conducted an at-sea exercise in the Java Sea with Indonesian Navy corvette KRI Kapitan Pattimura (371). Both Francesco Morosini and Kumano will continue operring in the Southeast Asian region, as they are scheduled to participate in the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (LIMA) exhibition held from May 23 through 27 on Langkawi Island, Malaysia, which lies at the northern tip of the Malacca Strait.
Over in Cambodia, Indian Navy destroyer INS Delhi (D61) and frigate INS Satpura (F48) arrived at Sihanoukville on Thursday to conduct a port visit through Sunday. Last week, the two ships concluded the inaugural ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise (AIME) held in the South China Sea. Further south, United Kingdom Royal Navy offshore patrol vessel HMS Spey (P234) arrived on Wednesday at Devonport Naval Base, New Zealand to conduct engagements there. while sister ship HMS Tamar (P233) is docked at HMAS Stirling, located near the city of Perth, Australia.