Chinese Spy Ship Off Coast of Australia as Talisman Sabre Exercise Begins

July 21, 2023 4:39 PM
PLAN Dongdiao 795 Photo Courtesy of Japanese Ministry of Defense

A Chinese surveillance ship is now off the east coast of Australia and expected to move further south to monitor the U.S.–Australian-led multinational exercise Talisman Sabre 2023, an Australian senior military officer announced Friday.

Chinese ships have sailed off the coast of Australia before, and the vessel’s movement is not considered concerning, Lt. Gen Greg Bilton, chief of Joint Operations, Australian Defence Force (ADF), said during the opening ceremony of Talisman Sabre.

“No, look, they’ve come before and look, I’ll tell you now, there’s one off the east coast of Australia at the moment,” Bilton said. “We reached out on Thursday and hailed that vessel in the Coral Sea. It’ll move down, I expect, and join the exercise – or be in the location of the exercise again. They’ve done this for a number of years, we’re well prepared for it.”

The Chinese response to the Australian call was courteous and in accordance with normal norms at sea, Bilton said, although he did not reveal the Chinese ship name or class. People’s Liberation Army surveillance ships have been monitoring Talisman Sabre exercises since 2017 with the ships staying well outside the 12NM territorial sea limit and the exercise boundaries while doing so.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles and Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro were also present at the ceremony. The exercise is not a message to China, rather it is about the mutual relationship between allies and partners working together, Del Toro said during a press conference.

“And what we’re trying to do in all of our exercises, whether it be UNITAS kicking off in South America or Talisman Sabre here in the Indo-Pacific, is to actually work far more closely building the types of capabilities – the advanced capabilities that we actually need to better be able to communicate together, to effectively show long-range fires when necessary and to use capabilities in space as well, too, to our full advantage, making each exercise that much more complicated and that much more integrated, right,” Del Toro said.

He added that such exercises enable U.S. partner nations to be capable of working together collectively in order to be far more responsive as one task force.

“We are extremely tied by the core values that exist amongst our many nations together,” Del Toro said. “And we are prepared to actually operate together in defense of our national security interests and in defense of the core values that we all share as Western and non-Western countries working together. I think that’s the most important message that China or any other country actually can take from this exercise and any other exercise that we do with partners and allies.”

Along with amphibious landings and live firings, the exercise will feature the deployment of a transportable wharf from the United States to Bowen, Queenland, Australia, in which 800 vehicles will be moved through during the course of the exercise, Marles said.

“That is a huge logistical capability which is being exercised in that. It’s going to be the most significant logistics exercise that we will see between Australia and the United States in Australia since the Second World War,” Marles said.

Marles also said that following the 33rd Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) in Brisbane next week, he will be bringing U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin to visit Australian and U.S. troops taking part in the Talisman Sabre exercise.

A full list of participating ships has yet to be officially released for Talisman Sabre, although the United States sent the America Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), which consists of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) and landing platform docks USS New Orleans (LPD-18) and USS Green Bay (LPD-20) and the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

Japan is despatching destroyer helicopter carrier JS Izumo (DDH-183) and landing ship tank JS Shimokita (LST-4002) as part of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) Indo-Pacific Deployment 2023 (IPD23) mission. Royal Australian Navy (RAN) amphibious assault ship HMAS Adelaide (L01) is participating in the exercise although Australia has yet to release any info on other RAN ships participating. Adelaide recently embarked British Royal Marine Commandoes on it for the exercise

Talisman Sabre 2023 is being conducted across northern Australia from July 22 to Aug. 4 with more than 30,000 military personnel from 13 nations directly participating in it. Australia, Canada, Fiji, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Tonga, the United Kingdom and the United States are full participants with the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand attending as observers.

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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