Japanese, U.S., the Philippines Drill in the South China Sea; China Contests U.S. Position on Territorial Disputes

September 5, 2023 5:40 PM
JS Izumo (DDH-183), destroyer JS Samidare (DD-106) and an Oyashio class submarine. JMSDF Photo

Japanese naval units carried out antisubmarine warfare drills in the South China Sea on Monday while the U.S and Philippine navies conducted a joint sail in the South China Sea the same day. Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and Royal Thai Navy (RTN) commenced the joint naval and marine forces drill Blue Strike 2023 on Sunday, which takes place around the Gulf of Thailand and Eastern Thailand.

In a Tuesday release, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) stated that on Monday, helicopter destroyer JS Izumo (DDH-183) and destroyer JS Samidare (DD-106) held an antisubmarine warfare exercise with an submarine in the South China Sea. Image released by the JMSDF showed the submarine to be an Oyashio class.

IPD is an annual regional presence and engagement deployment by the JMSDF that began in 2019. This year’s deployment consists of three surface units and one submarine unit. The first surface unit consists of Izumo, Samidare and destroyer JS Shiranui (DD-120), with Shiranui largely operating independently; the second surface unit consists of JS Shimokita (LST-4002) and the third surface unit consists of the frigate JS Kumano (FFM-2).

Destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114) and Philippine Navy frigate BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) conducted a joint bilateral sail in the South China Sea on Monday, according to a Navy release. During the sail, the ships completed division tactics, which is at-sea training designed for ship handlers to practice maneuvering in close proximity to other vessels and improve bridge team confidence.

The two drills follow a series of bilateral and multilateral military drills and engagement by Australia, Japan and the United States over the past two weeks, as the three countries seek to deter China from aggressive actions toward the Philippines, particularly in regard to Philippine resupply missions to the grounded LST BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57) at Second Thomas Shoal—part of the disputed Spratly Islands.

Australia carried out the bilateral amphibious Exercise Alon 2023 drill in late August with the Philippines, deploying amphibious assault ship HMAS Canberra (L02) and frigate HMAS Anzac (FFH-150) with MV-22B Ospreys from Marine Rotational Force-Darwin to support the exercise. Following the exercise, Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles stated that joint patrols between Australia and the Philippines in the South China Sea will occur soon.

USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114) and Philippine Navy guided-missile frigate BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) on Sept. 4, 2023. US Navy Photo

Exercise Alon was followed by a multilateral exercise between Australia, Japan, the Philippines and the United States on Aug. 24 with Canberra, Anzac, Izumo, Samidare, littoral combat ship USS Mobile (LCS-26) and Royal Australian Air Force F-35 Lightning fighters drilling with Philippine Navy landing platform dock BRP Davao del Sur (LD-602). From August 26 to 27, senior military leaders of the four countries discussed in Manila on further ways to improve the cooperation in the four countries.

China’s Ministry of National Defense has pushed back against the U.S position on the dispute over Second Thomas Shoal. During the Ministry’s monthly press conference on Thursday, Ministry spokesperson Senior Col Wu Qian stated that China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and the adjacent waters, and the Philippines action violated China’s sovereignty. “The U.S has encouraged, supported and helped the Philippines in shipping building materials to the vessel illegally grounded at the Ren’ai Jiao [Second Thomas Shoal],” said Wu, who urged the U.S to stop meddling in the South China Sea.

Asked to comment on recent joint military exercises carried out in the South China Sea and on reports that the exercises targeted China, Wu replied, “China advocates that bilateral and multilateral defense and security cooperation between regional countries should contribute to peace and stability in the region, and should not target at other countries,” adding that the Chinese military will take solid measures to safeguard China’s national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.

Meanwhile, the PLAN and RTN are carrying out the joint bilateral drill Blue Strike 2023, which opened on Sunday at Sattahip Naval Base in Thailand, “During the joint training, the Marine Corps from both sides will conduct training exercises including urban warfare, light weapons shooting, sniping tactics, armored tactics, chemical defense, battlefield first aid, wilderness survival, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief,” stated a Chinese Ministry of National Defense release on Monday.

The drills will conclude on Sept. 10 with activity centered around the Gulf of Thailand and the Royal Thai Marines camp and training areas in Sattahip district. The PLAN has despatched frigate CNS Anyang (599), amphibious transport dock CNS Siming Shan (986), fleet oiler CNS Chaohu (890) and a Song-class submarine, while the Royal Thai Navy is deploying frigates HTMS Bhumibol Adulyadej (FFG-471) and HTMS Naresuan (FFG-421) and amphibious assault ships HTMS Angthong (LPD-791) and HTMS Chang (LPD-792) for the drills.

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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