Joint Russian, Chinese Flotilla Underway Off Japan; Recovery Operations Begin for Crashed Australian Helicopter

July 31, 2023 2:35 PM

A group of 10 Russian and Chinese warships patrolled near Japan and sailed through the La Perouse Strait from the Sea of Japan to the Sea of Okhotsk over the weekend, the Japan Defense Ministry announced on Saturday.

The Chinese-Russian flotilla was sighted at 3 p.m. Friday, sailing northeast in an area 125 miles southwest of Rebun Island, which lies 31 miles off the northern tip of the main island of Hokkaido, Japanese officials said in a Friday statement.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy warships were identified as destroyers CNS Guiyang (119) and CNS Qiqihar (121), frigates CNS Zaozhuang (542) and CNS Rizhao (598) and fleet oiler CNS Taihu (889), while the Russian Navy ships were identified RFS Admiral Panteleyev (548) and RFS Admiral Tributs (564), corvettes RFS Gremyashchiy (337) and RFS Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov (339) and a Dubna class fleet tanker, all part of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet.

The joint detachment was formed in the waters of Peter the Great Gulf near Vladivostok, according to a Friday statement from the Russian Navy.

“The tasks of the joint patrol are to strengthen naval cooperation between Russia and China, maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, monitor the sea area and protect the objects of maritime economic activity of the Russian Federation and China,” reads the release.

The combined flotilla will conduct drills on the voyage, and aircraft of the Russian Pacific Fleet’s naval aviation and aviation units of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will also carry out cooperation activities with the ships. The joint patrol by the two navies is the third one following earlier patrols carried out in 2021 and 2022.

The Friday Russian release did not state the route of the patrol though a Wednesday China Ministry of National Defense release said the patrol would take place in the western and northern waters of the Pacific Ocean. With the exception of Russian fleet oiler Pechenga, all the other ships previously carried out the Chinese-Russian “Northern Interaction 2023” exercise from July 20-23 in the Sea of Japan and then entered Vladivostok following the conclusion of the exercise where the PLAN ships conducted a port visit. The combined flotilla departed Vladivostok Thursday.

The flotilla subsequently sailed eastwards through La Perouse Strait, which separates Hokkaido and the Russian island of Sakhalin, from Friday to Saturday. Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer escort JS Chikuma (DE-233), fast attack craft JS Wakataka (PG-825) and JMSDF P-3C Orions Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) of Fleet Air Wing 2, based at JMSDF Hachinohe Air Base on the main island of Honshu, monitored the Russian-Chinese flotilla, according to a statement from the Japanese.


Russian Navy and PLAN ships carried out further separate transits from the Sea of Japan and Sea of Okhotsk through La Perouse Strait on Saturday, according to the Monday JSO releases.

Russian Navy corvettes RFS R-298 (971) and RFS R-261 (991) had been sighted at 7 a.m. Saturday, sailing eastwards in an area 25 miles northwest of Rebun Island and, subsequently, sailed east through La Perouse Strait.

PLAN surveillance ship Kaiyangxing (796) was sighted at 8 a.m. Saturday sailing east in an area 25 miles northwest of Rebun Island before it sailed east through La Perouse Strait. The release noted that the PLAN ship had transited north through the Tsushima Strait from July 16-17.

Wakataka and a JMSDF P-3C Orion MPA of Fleet Air Wing 2 shadowed the Russian and Chinese ships.

Recovery Efforts Ongoing After Australian Helicopter Crash

Search and rescue operations for the four-person crew of an Australian MRH-90 helicopter that crashed during Exercise Talisman Sabre revealed significant wreckage and evidence of a catastrophic accident, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said during a Monday press conference at the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia.

“As such, the nature of the activities which are being undertaken in the Whitsundays has transferred from being ones of search and rescue to an activity of recovery,” Marles said. “The families of the four aircrew were notified of this morning, and I’ve spoken with each of them in the last hour. But I do want to assure them, and assure the nation that the determined recovery effort involving hundreds of Defence Force personnel will continue”.

Talisman Sabre will continue, although some parts will be modified, said Australian Defense Force Chief Gen. Angus Campbell, at the press conference.

“The exercise is continuing, albeit it in some parts, particularly in the vicinity of the incident site, adjusted or changed in a way that enables the recovery effort to continue at scale and then appropriately redirects exercise activity and planning into the next stages of that activity,” Campbell said.

Several ships and aircraft involved in Talisman Sabre have been carrying out search and rescue operations in the crash site area since Friday, which took place in the waters around the Whitsunday Islands, which lie off the central coast of Queensland, Australia.

During various press conferences during the weekend, ADF officials announced that destroyer HMAS Brisbane (DDG41), amphibious assault ship HMAS Adelaide (L01), expeditionary support base USS Miguel Keith (ESB-5), minehunter HMAS Huon (M82) Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) maritime patrol aircraft, Royal Australian Navy (RAN) helicopters, U.S Navy maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters and Royal Canadian Navy helicopters were involved in the search and rescue operation together with ships and aircraft from Australian state and federal agencies.

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.

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox