U.S., Australia, Japan Drill with the Philippines in South China Sea; China Flies Military Drone Near Taiwan

August 27, 2023 7:05 AM
HMAS Canberra (L02) with JS Izumo (DDH-183) on Aug. 24, 2023. JMSDF Photo

The U.S., Australia, Japan and the Philippines carried out a joint exercise in the waters off Manila on Thursday involving the Australian and Japanese large-deck ships on deployment in the region. Meanwhile, Chinese bombers flew near Japan while a Chinese unmanned air vehicle conducted a flight off Taiwan’s east coast, according to Japan Ministry of Defense press releases.

A Friday release by the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) stated that the helicopter-carrier destroyer JS Izumo (DDH-183) and destroyer JS Samidare (DD-106) of the First Surface Unit of the JMSDF Indo-Pacific Deployment 2023 (IPD23) mission conducted tactical exercises in the vicinity of Manila with U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship USS Mobile (LCS-26), Royal Australian Navy (RAN) amphibious assault ship HMAS Canberra (L02) and frigate HMAS Anzac (FFH150), Philippine Navy landing platform dock BRP Davao del Sur (LD-602) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft.

“The ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) shares fundamental principals [sic] with the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP), and Japan agrees with it. The JMSDF will strengthen the Japan-U.S. Alliance to deter and counter threats, further improvement of interoperability with the Royal Australian Navy, and improve bilateral defense cooperation with the Philippine Navy for regional peace and stability and the maintenance of maritime order” said RADM. Takahiro Nishiyama, commander of the IPD23 First Surface Unit and commander of Escort Flotilla 1, in the release.

Izumo and Samidare are making a port call to Manila from Friday until August 31, according to a second JMSDF release .

The Australian ships and aircraft are in the Philippines as part of the Philippines-Australian joint amphibious drill Exercise Alon , which is also supported by MV-22 Ospreys for U.S. Marine Force Rotational – Darwin (MFR-D). The exercise is also part of the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2023 (IPE23) deployment, an annual engagement activity in the region. This year’s IPE takes place from June to October and, unlike in past years, is now broken into individual country deployment and engagement activities. In previous years, the ADF would deploy a joint task force built around one of the two Canberra-class amphibious ships. The task force would sail continuously from country to country to conduct engagement activities.

Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles and Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr. observed the drills in Zambales, Philippines on Friday along with Marles and Theodoro.

“We recommitted to planning bilateral joint patrols in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea and other areas of mutual interest,” Marles said in a statement issued Friday. “We committed to expanding some of our bilateral activities in the future to include other countries committed to sustaining peace and security in our region.”

The Philippines referred to the nearest region of the South China Sea, including Philippine territorial waters and its Exclusive Economic Zone, as the West Philippine Sea.

In a joint press conference with Teodoro, Marles stated that the joint patrols would be carried out soon and that both the ADF and Armed Forces of the Philippines were involved., “And we’re really pleased with the progress of those discussions and we expect that the first of those joint patrols will happen in the not too distant future” said Marles in the session.

Teodoro was asked about the presence of a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) during Tuesday’s successful resupply mission by the Philippines to the grounded landing ship tank BRP Sierra Madre (LS-67) at Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands. China Coast Guard and China Maritime Militia ships attempted to prevent the resupply.

“The role of the United States in those resupplies, they were providing freedom of navigation, they were conducting freedom of navigation operations on their own, uncoordinated with us and which they do on a regular basis anyway,” Teodoro said, though he acknowledged that the U.S. flight could have been coordinated between the two countries at a level below him.

Embarked media on the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ships escorting the resupply boats photographed a U.S. Navy P-8 with identification number 756 flying overhead during the mission along with a UAV believed to be Chinese. The China Coast Guard on Wednesday released a video of the encounter that was taken from the air.

JSDF Image of a drone flight near Taiwan

The Joint Staff Office (JSO) of Japan’s Ministry of Defense issued a release Friday stating that two Chinese H-6 bombers flew in from the East China Sea that morning, transited the Miyako Strait between Okinawa and Miyako Island, then flew southeast before turning back. They subsequently turned to pass the Miyako Strait again, entering the East China Sea. Fighters from the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) Southwest Air District were scrambled in response.

The JSO issued additional releases on Friday. One stated that from morning to afternoon that day, a Chinese BZK-005 UAV flew in from the East China Sea, passing between Taiwan and Yonaguni Island, then flew around the Philippine Sea east of Taiwan before returning to the East China Sea. Fighters from the JASDF Southwest Air District were scrambled. Another Friday release provided updates on the movements of Russian surveillance ship Kurily (208), which had been sailing south off the northeast coast of the main island of Honshu from Sunday to Friday and was sailing further southwest off Chiba prefecture. The release stated that multipurpose support ships JS Suo (AMS-4302) and JS Enshu (AMS-4305), together with JMSDF P-3C Orions, MPAs of Fleet Air Wing Fleet Air Wing 2 based at JMSDF Hachinohe Air Base shadowed the Russian ship.

The JMSDF announced  on Friday that destroyer JS Maya (179) conducted tactical exercises with carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) from Monday to Friday east of Okinawa to south of the Kanto region. Reagan on Friday morning docked at its homeport of Yokosuka. Social media photographs by Japanese ship spotters show the carrier docking in with an empty flight deck.

Earlier on Monday in Australia, nations of the Quad alliance – Australia, India, Japan and the United States – wrapped up the Quad exercise Malabar 2023 that began on Aug. 11. The U.S. deployed destroyer USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-115), fleet oiler USNS Rappahannock (T-AO-204), a submarine, P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) and special operations forces, while India participated with destroyer INS Kolkata (D63) and frigate INS Sahyadri (F49). Host nation Australia deployed destroyer HMAS Brisbane (DDG-41), landing ship HMAS Choules (L100), a submarine, special forces and RAAF F-35 Lightning II fighters and P-8A Poseidons MPA. Japan deployed destroyer JS Shiranui (DD-120) along with a special boarding unit of the JMSDF.

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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