ESB Miguel Keith Drills with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force in East China Sea

May 15, 2024 3:59 PM
The Lewis B. Puller-class expeditionary mobile base USS Miguel Keith (ESB 5) steams in the Gulf of Thailand, Mar. 1, 2024, during Exercise Cobra Gold 2024. U.S. Navy Photo

Expeditionary sea base USS Miguel Keith (ESB-5) carried out trilateral drills with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Royal New Zealand Air Force in the East China Sea earlier this week. 

Destroyer JS Akizuki (DD-115) and a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft performed the drills for Noble Raven 24 from Saturday to Monday, according to a JMSDF news release issued Tuesday. Meanwhile, on Monday North Korea’s Foreign Ministry denounced United Nations maritime and air surveillance operations carried out in support of sanctions on North Korea.

For Noble Raven, the U.S., Japan and New Zealand carried out tactical exercises, according to the release.

“[The] New Zealand Defense Force is important partners to maintain and strengthen the international order based on the rule of law, and we are working together through various opportunities, such as monitoring and surveillance activities against illicit maritime activities including ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean vessels,” reads a JMSDF release.

Miguel Keith has been deployed to the Western Pacific since the fall of 2021 to support U.S. 7th Fleet operations, while the RNZAF P-8 Poseidon has been operating out of Kadena Air Base since mid-April, conducting surveillance activities of illicit maritime activities, including ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean-flagged vessels that are prohibited by United Nations Security Council resolutions. These operations involve several countries deploying of ships and aircraft staging out of Japan, with a minimum of a single ship and a single aircraft, not necessarily from the same country, conducting the mission at specific periods. These deployments supplemental round-the-clock surveillance by the Japanese military on North Korea’s sanctions violations, according to a Japan Ministry of Defense post on social media website X.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry denounced the surveillance missions in a press statement Monday in the state-run media outlet, referring to the “military interference in the Asia Pacific” carried out by U.S. allies under the pretext of monitoring violations of U.N. sanctions. The statement went on to state that the United Kingdom staged a naval drill with South Korea by dispatching its naval forces into the waters around the Korean peninsula, and claimed it was part of the U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea. Pyongyang also said that in the wake of the U.K.- South Korea drill, Canada is “scheming” to deploy a maritime patrol aircraft to a base in Japan to conduct surveillance over the waters around the Korean peninsula.

Japan’s Ministry of Defense had announced on May 8 that a Royal Canadian Air Force CP-140 MPA would carry out monitoring and surveillance out of Kadena Air Base from early May to early June. The U.K Ministry of Defense on Tuesday issued a news release stating that Royal Navy offshore patrol vessel HMS Spey (P234) conducted joint maritime patrols with South Korea in the waters around the Korean Peninsula to enforce U.N. Security Council Resolutions against North Korea. The release did not disclose when these patrols occurred, only stating that Spey carried out the patrols with a Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) ship and ROKN maritime patrol aircraft.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry statement went on to state that U.S. allies like Germany, France and New Zealand were sending military ships and aircraft to the Asia Pacific region, including the waters around the Korean peninsula in continuous succession for this year, “encroaching upon the security interests of regional countries and escalating the military tension in the region.” Pyongyang cited an Australian warship that was operating in the waters of the Korean peninsula and deployed a helicopter, claiming it threatened the maritime and air security of a surrounding country and created the possibility of conflict.

North Korea statement was referring to a May 4 incident in which a People’s Liberation Army Air Force fighter jet dropped flares in front of a Royal Australian Navy MH-60R helicopter operating from destroyer HMAS Hobart (D39) in the Yellow Sea while the destroyer was conducting a sanctions monitoring mission. While North Korea has not directly interfered in such missions, Chinese naval ships and military aircraft have on several occasions harassed Canadian maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters and Australian ships, aircraft and helicopters conducting the missions. Other countries conducting the missions have not publicly reported any harassment by the Chinese military. China claims that the monitoring missions serve as a cover for reconnaissance missions against China.

Speaking about the incident, China Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Senior Col. Zhang Xiaogang said on May 7 that the People’s Liberation Army Navy was training in the Yellow Sea from May 3-4 and that Hobart dispatched its helicopter on three occasions to “conduct close reconnaissance and nuisance to China’s normal training activities.”

Zhang said warnings and actions forcing the other party to leave were legitimate, reasonable, professional, safe and fully complied with international law and international practice.

“We ask Australia to earnestly respect China’s sovereignty and security concerns, stop spreading false narratives, strictly restrict the actions of its naval and air forces, and stop all dangerous and provocative actions to avoid damaging the overall relations between China and Australia and the two militaries,” Zhang said.

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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