Posts Tagged ‘Sea of Okhotsk’

Korean peninsula draws range of military drills in show of force against North Korea

September 18, 2017


BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) – The U.S. military staged bombing drills with South Korea over the Korean peninsula and Russia and China began naval exercises ahead of a U.N. General Assembly meeting on Tuesday where North Korea’s nuclear threat is likely to loom large.

The flurry of military drills came after Pyongyang fired another mid-range ballistic missile over Japan on Friday and the reclusive North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3 in defiance of United Nations sanctions and other international pressure.

A pair of U.S. B-1B bombers and four F-35 jets flew from Guam and Japan and joined four South Korean F-15K fighters in the latest drill, South Korea’s defense ministry said.

The joint drills were being conducted “two to three times a month these days”, Defence Minister Song Young-moo told a parliamentary hearing on Monday.

In Beijing, the official Xinhua news agency said China and Russia began naval drills off the Russian far eastern port of Vladivostok, not far from the Russia-North Korea border.

Those drills were being conducted between Peter the Great Bay, near Vladivostok, and the southern part of the Sea of Okhotsk, to the north of Japan, it said.

The drills are the second part of China-Russian naval exercises this year, the first part of which was staged in the Baltic in July. Xinhua did not directly link the drills to current tension over North Korea.

Image result for china, russia naval exercise, photos

File photo of combined Russia and China naval exercises

China and Russia have repeatedly called for a peaceful solution and talks to resolve the issue.

On Sunday, however, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the U.N. Security Council had run out of options on containing North Korea’s nuclear program and the United States might have to turn the matter over to the Pentagon.

In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the most pressing task was for all parties to enforce the latest U.N. resolutions on North Korea fully, rather than “deliberately complicating the issue”.

Military threats from various parties have not promoted a resolution to the issue, he said.

“This is not beneficial to a final resolution to the peninsula nuclear issue,” Lu told a daily news briefing.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed that North Korea will never be able to threaten the United States with a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile.

Asked about Trump’s warning last month that the North Korean threat to the United States would be met with “fire and fury”, Haley said: “It was not an empty threat.”

Image result for U.S. Bombers and South Korean fighters, photos

In this photo provided by South Korean Defense Ministry, a U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber, right, and South Korean fighter jets conduct a joint training exercises over the Korean Peninsula. (South Korean Defense via AP)

Washington has also asked China to do more to rein in its neighbor and ally, while Beijing has urged the United States to refrain from making threats against the North.


The U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a U.S.-drafted resolution a week ago mandating tougher new sanctions against Pyongyang that included banning textile imports and capping crude and petrol supply.

Gasoline and diesel prices in the North have surged since the latest nuclear test, according to market data analyzed by Reuters on Monday.

The international community must remain united and enforce sanctions against North Korea after its repeated launch of ballistic missiles, Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe said in an editorial in the New York Times on Sunday.

Such tests were in violation of Security Council resolutions and showed that North Korea could now target the United States or Europe, he wrote.

Abe also said diplomacy and dialogue would not work with North Korea and concerted pressure by the entire international community was essential to tackle the threats posed by the north and its leader, Kim Jong Un.

However, the official China Daily argued on Monday that sanctions should be given time to bite and that the door must be left open to talks.

Image may contain: outdoor

”With its Friday missile launch, Pyongyang wanted to give the impression that sanctions will not work,“ it said in an editorial. ”Some people have fallen for that and immediately echoed the suggestion, pointing to the failure of past sanctions to achieve their purpose.

“But that past sanctions did not work does not mean they will not. It is too early to claim failure because the latest sanctions have hardly begun to take effect. Giving the sanctions time to bite is the best way to make Pyongyang reconsider,” the newspaper said.

Pyongyang has launched dozens of missiles as it accelerates a weapons program designed to provide the ability to target the United States with a powerful, nuclear-tipped missile.

It says such programs are needed as a deterrent against invasion by the United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea. On Saturday, it said it aimed to reach an “equilibrium” of military force with the United States.

The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez



China Navy Ships Depart for Joint Drills With Russia

September 14, 2017

BEIJING — Four Chinese navy ships have departed for joint drills with Russia in the latest sign of growing cooperation between the two militaries that could challenge the U.S. armed forces’ role in the Asia-Pacific.

A destroyer, missile frigate, supply ship and submarine rescue ship departed Wednesday from the port of Qingdao, home to China’s north sea fleet, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The drills are being held in the Sea of Japan near the Korean Peninsula and the Sea of Okhotsk off the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, Xinhua said.

The exercises are the second stage of an annual joint drill, the first part of which was held July 22-27 in the Baltic Sea — the first time the countries had exercised together in the northern European waterbody.

Image result for russia, china, navy operating together, photos

Chinese and Russian destroyers take part in a previous joint exercise in 2014 / AP

Russia and China are closely aligned on many diplomatic and security issues, with both countries calling for a negotiated settlement of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, preceded by North Korea suspending its nuclear and missile activities in return for the U.S. and South Korea halting their regular large-scale wargames.

July’s joint drills in the Baltic stirred concern among countries in the region, where tensions are already high over increased displays of military force by both Moscow and NATO.

Both Russia and China say the exercises are not directed at any third parties.

The Chinese ships taking part in the exercises are among the country’s most advanced, components of a growing fleet that poses a significant challenge to the U.S. Navy’s traditional dominance in the Asia-Pacific. Beijing has long chafed at the American presence and is a strong critic of its alliances with Japan, Australia and other countries in the region.

China already has the world’s largest navy, with slightly over 300 vessels, compared to the U.S. Navy’s 277 “deployable battle force ships,” according to the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence forecasts it will have 313-342 warships by 2020.

While China’s ships are technologically inferior to those of the U.S. Navy, their sheer numbers allow China a significant presence on the open sea, institute professor Andrew S. Erickson wrote in a recent study.

Russia, Japan Still Have Unfinished Territorial Issues From World War II in Northern Territories, Southern Kuriles

December 15, 2016

TOKYO — Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Japan on Thursday for talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aimed at improving ties, but both sides have scaled back expectations of major progress toward a peace treaty formally ending World War Two.

Blocking the treaty is a territorial row involving four islands off Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido that were seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War Two.

Following are some key facts about the islands.


The islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia, are called Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets in Japanese. They are known in Russian as Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan and Habomai.

No automatic alt text available.

The islands were home to about 17,000 Japanese people, who fished, bred horses and mined gold, among other occupations, before they were seized by the Soviet Union after it declared war on Japan in the closing days of World War Two. The inhabitants were forced to flee.

The current population is 12,346, according to the Russian government.


The disputed islands form the southern end of the Kurile Island chain that stretches for 1,250 km (780 miles) from the southern tip of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninshula to Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido, dividing the Sea of Okhotsk to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east.

Their total land area is almost 5,000 square km (2,000 square miles), according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry – a little smaller than the U.S. state of Delaware and less than half the size of Lebanon. On clear days, Kunashiri is visible from Hokkaido.

Most inhabitants depend on fishing for their livelihoods and Japan would gain rich fishing grounds if it regained full control of the islands, partly through extending its exclusive economic zone.

The islands are close to oil- and gas-producing regions of Russia, and may themselves harbor rich mineral deposits, a tempting possibility for resource-poor Japan. But upgrading the island infrastructure to match that of the rest of Japan would be expensive.

They have strategic value for Russia as a sea lane to the Western Pacific for their navy.


In 2011, as many as 3,500 Russian troops belonging to the 18th Machine Gun-Artillery Division were deployed on the islands, said a top official in the Russian General Staff, quoted by Russian news agency Interfax.

The unit is reinforced with self-propelled artillery, anti-aircraft systems, rocket artillery and seven dozen tanks, the Russian Defense Ministry broadcaster Zvezda said.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said in March Russia would study the possibility of building a naval base in the islands, prompting protests from Japan.

In November, Russian media reported that Bastion and Bal anti-ship missile systems were in operation on the islands. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called that development “regrettable”.

(Addition reporting by Denis Dyomkin; Editing by Robert Birsel and Christian Schmollinger)

Japan protests Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to disputed Kuril islands

August 23, 2015


Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has postponed a planned trip to Moscow in a swift rebuke to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to the Kuril islands, an archipelago Japan has long claimed sovereignty over.

Medvedev went to Iturup, one of four islands in the chain that lies off Russia’s far eastern coast and just north of Japan, for a day-long visit which included a photo-op with a giant Russian flag and overseeing military training.

He also chose the time of the visit to make public a government decree on expanding Russia’s shelf in the Sea of Okhotsk, a marginal sea which lies just north of the Kurils.

Medvedev said Japan was “getting upset for nothing”.

The visit has led to Kishida postponing a planned trip to Russia in the next few weeks, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported, quoting government sources.

Kishida had been expected to prepare the ground for Russian President Vladimir Putin to make a long-delayed visit to Japan this year to seek a breakthrough in the 70-year-old territorial dispute.

Japan called in Russia’s ambassador to Japan in protest at the visit to the islands, which Japan calls the Northern Territories.

Hajime Hayashi, the head of the Japanese foreign ministry’s European division, said Medvedev’s trip “contradicts Japan’s position over the Northern Territories and hurts the feelings of the Japanese people… It is extremely regrettable”.

Medvedev however dismissed Japan’s concerns, saying that Russian officials “have visited, are visiting, and will visit the Kurils.”

“We want to be friends with Japan, Japan is our neighbour… but this has nothing to do with the Kuril islands which are part of Russia and are in a Russian region called the Sakhalin region.”

“Our colleagues are getting upset for nothing. This is how it is and how it will be,” he said, as quoted by Russian agencies.

He added that a decision has been reached to base a “modern effective military force” on the islands.

The defence ministry is currently building hundreds of residential buildings for the military on Iturup and neighbouring Kunashir (known as Etorofu and Kunishiri in Japan), with soldiers expecting to move there next year.

Soviet troops seized the islands just after Japan surrendered in World War II.

The seven-decade-old dispute has hampered trade and prevented Moscow and Tokyo from signing a formal post-war peace treaty.

Both the Kremlin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had hoped to start mending relations in order to revive trade, with Japan seeking broader access to Russia’s plentiful oil and natural gas supplies.

According to the government’s website, Medvedev visited the island’s new airport, sea port, a fish processing factory, and a youth forum where he met with young scientists and teachers.

He and the forum participants took selfies and unfurled a giant Russian flag on the island’s shore for a group picture to mark Russia’s flag day, according to Medvedev’s Instagram account.

“At the Kurils on Russia’s State Flag day,” the picture was captioned.

He went to the Kurils after making an official visit to Russia’s Far East region of Amur, where he visited a space port being built in Vostochny.

The cosmodrome is designed to ease Russia’s dependence on space launches in Baikonur, in Kazakhstan.

Medvedev visited the islands in 2012, and Russia held military exercises there in 2014. Both incidents provoked protests from Tokyo.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (L) visits a machine gun regiment on Iturup island. Photo: AFP


Above: Japanese maritime patrol aircraft over the East China Sea near Senkaku.

Japan also has an island dispute ongoing in the East China Sea. China claims the Diaoyu islands (called Senkaku by Japan) and both countries have been eyeball to eyeball over this islands for many years.

It would seem to many that China and Russia are employing something of a slow motion “salami slicing” strategy of prolonged wearing away of japan’s will and resistance. Chinese military have also called this the cabbage strategy.

Peace and Freedom editor


South China Sea Gives China A Key Area for Submarine Operations

June 23, 2015


A Chinese Navy nuclear submarine.

A Chinese Navy nuclear submarine. Photo: Reuters


For months, China’s visible construction of artificial islands and military facilities in the South China Sea has alarmed U.S. officials and many of China’s neighbors.

What is happening under the water is also worrisome, say several defense and security analysts.

China has a growing fleet of nuclear submarines armed with ballistic missiles. The expansion of its claim on the South China Sea may be intended to create a deep-water sanctuary – known in military parlance as a “bastion” – where its submarine fleet could avoid detection.

“The South China Sea would be a good place to hide Chinese submarines,” said Carl Thayer, a U.S.-born security specialist who has taught at the University of New South Wales and other Australian institutions. The sea floor is thousands of meters deep in places, with underwater canyons where a submarine could easily avoid detection.

Conflicts in the South China Sea are expected to be a major focus of annual U.S.-Sino talks that start Tuesday in Washington, including meetings between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang.

China last week announced that it was winding down its expansion of artificial islands in the South China Sea, but the statement wasn’t warmly received by U.S. officials.

Daniel Russel, assistant U.S. secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, noted that China continues to build facilities on the islands, including military installations, a move that he said was “troubling.”

“The prospect of militarizing those outposts runs counter to the goal of reducing tensions.” Russel said Thursday during a briefing in Washington. “That’s why we consistently urge China to cease reclamation, to not construct further facilities, and certainly not to further militarize outposts in the South China Sea.”

The South China Sea – bounded by Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and Malaysia – is one of the world’s most important shipping lanes. China asserts it holds maritime rights to 80 percent of the sea, a claim that other countries have vigorously contested.

According to Thayer, Beijing sees the South China Sea as a strategic asset because it guards China’s southern flank, including a submarine base in Sanya, on China’s Hainan island. The People’s Liberation Army Navy has built underwater tunnels there to quietly dock some of its submarines, including those that carry ballistic missiles.

As of 2014, China had 56 attack submarines, including five that were nuclear powered. It also has at least three nuclear-powered submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles, and is planning to add five more, according to a Pentagon report released last year.

In an April media briefing in Washington, a top U.S. Navy official said the Pentagon is watching China’s ballistic submarines “very carefully.”

“Any time a nation has developed nuclear weapons and delivery platforms that can range the homeland, it’s a concern of mine,” said Adm. William Gortney, the commander of the U.S. Northern Command. Gortney quickly added that China has a policy of “no first use” of nuclear weapons, “which gives me a little bit of a good news picture there.”

In recent decades, China has worked to build up a nuclear deterrence capability in the shadow of that developed by the United States and Russia. Its submarine program is a major part of that push. Since submarines can often avoid detection, they are less vulnerable to a first-strike attack than land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles or nuclear bombers.

Currently, China’s JL2 submarine ballistic missiles lack the capacity of reaching the continental United States from the South China Sea. But China hopes to improve the range of those missiles in coming years, which is why analysts think China sees the sea as a future “bastion” for its nuclear submarines.

Bernard D. Cole, a professor at the National War College and a retired U.S. Navy captain, says the Soviets developed the submarine bastion strategy during the Cold War. A spy ring alerted the Soviets to the fact that the United States was easily tracking their submarines in the open ocean. So the Soviets created heavily mined and fortified zones for their subs to operate as close to the United States as possible. One was in the White Sea of northwest Russia and the other was in the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan, said Cole.

Chinese submarines are known for being relatively noisy – and thus easy to detect – making it difficult for them to slip into the western Pacific without being detected. But once China improves the range of its missiles, it won’t need to move its submarines out of the South China Sea to pose a retaliatory threat to the United States.

“My own conclusion, right now, is that China will adopt a bastion strategy in the South China Sea,” Cole said in an email, noting he was expressing his personal views, not those of the National War College. China’s bastion strategy, he said, will bank on fairly rapid development of ballistic missiles with the range to reach the United States.

U.S. officials are concerned that China might unilaterally declare an “air defense identification zone” in the South China Sea that would restrict military overflights, including U.S. planes attempting to track China’s submarines. Last month, when a U.S. surveillance plane carrying a CNN crew flew over some of the islands, the Chinese navy issued urgent warnings to back off, a possible sign of things to come.

The two-day U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, an annual exchange between the two countries, starts Tuesday in Washington. China and U.S. officials will discuss trade and economic issues, and the U.S. side will likely raise concerns over recent cyber theft of federal employee data, thought to originate from China.

In the run-up to the meeting, Chinese state media has been playing down tensions between the two countries.

“Following months of diplomatic clashes over the South China Sea, Sino-U.S. relations seem to be headed for calmer waters . . . ” China Daily reported Friday.

Thayer and other analysts say China has multiple reasons for building its artificial islands in the South China Sea. One purpose is to intimidate neighbors, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines.

“China hopes to put pressure on the Philippines so it will not provide the U.S. with a rotational (military) presence,” said Thayer. In May of 2016, Filipinos will vote in a presidential election that could determine the future of U.S. military access to the Philippines.

US protests “unsafe” intercept of reconnaissance plane by Russia

April 13, 2015


Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighter

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is protesting an intercept of a U.S. reconnaissance plane by a Russian fighter jet last week, calling it “unsafe and unprofessional” amid what it views as increasingly aggressive air operations by Moscow.

Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright on Sunday said the U.S. was filing a complaint to Russia after the April 7 incident over the Baltic Sea.

Russian officials have denied their pilot did anything wrong, according to several news reports.

According to the Pentagon, the U.S. RC-135U plane was flying in international airspace north of Poland. U.S. officials say a Russian SU-27 fighter intercepted the U.S. aircraft at a high rate of speed from the rear, and then proceeded to conduct two more passes using “unsafe and unprofessional maneuvers” in close proximity.

“Unprofessional air intercepts have the potential to cause harm to all aircrews involved. More importantly, the careless actions of a single pilot have the potential to escalate tensions between countries,” Wright said.

“This air activity takes place in the context of a changed security environment in view of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” he said.

It isn’t the first time the U.S. has protested to Moscow what it considered to be an unsafe intercept. Last April, a Russian fighter jet intercepted a U.S. reconnaissance plane in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk.

Greed and corruption blamed for the sinking of Russian trawler — At least 56 crew died

April 9, 2015


MOSCOW (Reuters) – Greed and corruption were to blame for the sinking of a Russian trawler last week in which at least 56 crew died, a spokesman for investigators said on Wednesday.

The Dalniy Vostok fishing vessel sank in the icy Sea of Okhotsk off Russia’s far eastern coast last Thursday. Sixty-three people were rescued out of a crew of 132 people, with 13 missing presumed dead.

Russian ship Dalny Vostok — PATALAVACA/AFP/Getty Images

Many past Russian disasters have been blamed on negligence or violation of safety regulations.

“There are no doubts that this is a crime at the base of which lies the greed of the businessmen who owned the vessel and corrupt officials,” Vladimir Markin, the Investigative Committee spokesman, told Rossiya 1 television, TASS news agency reported.

“Both the owner of this vessel and the captain knew that in the petrol tanks there was a minimal amount of fuel, the trawler’s ability to right itself was affected.”

Markin also said investigators had established that there were not enough lifeboats on the Dalniy Vostok for over 20 crew members.

“We know that on board there were a large number of foreigners who were working there illegally. We know who brought them in and by what means,” he said.

“We have concrete officials (in mind), whom I won’t name so they don’t run away, but we will bring them to justice.”

(Reporting by Alexander Winning; editing by Andrew Roche)

Russian ship Dalny Vostok sank in the Sea of Okhotsk in 15 minutes

Norwegian Business Loses $1.2Bln Due to Anti-Russia Sanctions

December 24, 2014

Norwegian companies have lost about 1 billion euros due to the Western sanctions imposed on Russia, Russian trade representative in Norway Tamara Chernyshova told RIA Novosti Tuesday.

MOSCOW, December 23 (Sputnik) — Norwegian companies have lost about 1 billion euros (slightly over 1.2 billion dollars) due to the Western sanctions imposed on Russia over its alleged involvement in the Ukrainian crisis, Russian trade representative in Norway Tamara Chernyshova told RIA Novosti Tuesday.

“The losses of the EU member states [incurred by the anti-Russia sanctions] amounted to 5 billion euros [slightly over 6 billion dollars]. Norway, which is not a member of the European Union, estimates its losses at 1 billion euros [1.2 billion dollars],” Chernyshova said in an interview.

The trade representative noted that despite the complicated situation caused by the imposition of Western sanctions, Norway’s direct investment in Russian economy is surging. The total volume of the trade turnover has not been drastically affected either, she noted.

“We are continuing our inter-sector collaboration, including fisheries regulation, nuclear security cooperation, and we are getting ready for a tourism business forum, “she added.

The trade representative stressed that the anti-Russia sanctions had significantly affected cooperation in the energy sector, especially projects based in the Arctic. However, earlier in December, the CEOs of Russia’s oil company Rosneft and Norway’s state-owned energy giant Statoil agreed to maintain cooperation on projects in the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk.

Answering the question if an expected change in Statoil’s leadership may affect the company’s strategy toward cooperation with Rosneft, Chernyshova stressed that all the current agreements will remain in force.

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia and Norway had good prospects in trade and expressed hope that the results of the joint work achieved in recent years would not be lost.

Norway was one of the countries that joined anti-Russia sanctions imposed over Moscow’s alleged meddling in the Ukrainian conflict. One of the recent waves of sanctions specifically targeted the country’s energy sector, prohibiting the export of goods, services and technologies for deep water, Arctic and shale oil exploration to Russia. In response, Moscow banned the import of certain Norwegian food products, including fish.

China’s Submarines Add Nuclear-Strike Capability, Altering Strategic Balance

October 24, 2014


China’s Jin-class Type 94 nuclear ballistic missile submarine

One Sunday morning last December, China’s defense ministry summoned military attachés from several embassies to its monolithic Beijing headquarters.

To the foreigners’ surprise, the Chinese said that one of their nuclear-powered submarines would soon pass through the Strait of Malacca, a passage between Malaysia and Indonesia that carries much of world trade, say people briefed on the meeting.

By Jeremy Page
The Wall Street Journal

Two days later, a Chinese attack sub—a so-called hunter-killer, designed to seek out and destroy enemy vessels—slipped through the strait above water and disappeared. It resurfaced near Sri Lanka and then in the Persian Gulf, say people familiar with its movements, before returning through the strait in February—the first known voyage of a Chinese sub to the Indian Ocean.

The message was clear: China had fulfilled its four-decade quest to join the elite club of countries with nuclear subs that can ply the high seas. The defense ministry summoned attachés again to disclose another Chinese deployment to the Indian Ocean in September—this time a diesel-powered sub, which stopped off in Sri Lanka.

China’s increasingly potent and active sub force represents the rising power’s most significant military challenge yet for the region. Its expanding undersea fleet not only bolsters China’s nuclear arsenal but also enhances the country’s capacity to enforce its territorial claims and thwart U.S. intervention.

China is expected to pass another milestone this year when it sets a different type of sub to sea—a “boomer,” carrying fully armed nuclear missiles for the first time—says the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, or ONI.

China is hardly hiding its new boomers. Tourists could clearly see three of them at a base opposite a resort recently in China’s Hainan province. On the beach, rented Jet Skis were accompanied by guides to make sure riders didn’t stray too close.

These boomers’ missiles have the range to hit Hawaii and Alaska from East Asia and the continental U.S. from the mid-Pacific, the ONI says.

“This is a trump card that makes our motherland proud and our adversaries terrified,” China’s navy chief, Adm. Wu Shengli, wrote of the country’s missile-sub fleet in a Communist Party magazine in December. “It is a strategic force symbolizing great-power status and supporting national security.”

To naval commanders from other countries, the Chinese nuclear sub’s nonstop Indian Ocean voyage was especially striking, proving that it has the endurance to reach the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s headquarters in Hawaii.

“They were very clear with respect to messaging,” says Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, a former submariner who commands the U.S. Seventh Fleet, “to say that, ‘We’re a professional navy, we’re a professional submarine force, and we’re global. We’re no longer just a coastal-water submarine force.’ ”

In recent years, public attention has focused on China’s expanding military arsenal, including its first aircraft carrier and stealth fighter. But subs are more strategically potent weapons: A single one can project power far from China and deter other countries simply by its presence.

China’s nuclear attack subs, in particular, are integral to what Washington sees as an emerging strategy to prevent the U.S. from intervening in a conflict over Taiwan, or with Japan and the Philippines—both U.S. allies locked in territorial disputes with Beijing.

And even a few functional Chinese boomers compel the U.S. to plan for a theoretical Chinese nuclear-missile strike from the sea. China’s boomer patrols will make it one of only three countries—alongside the U.S. and Russia—that can launch atomic weapons from sea, air and land.

“I think they’ve watched the U.S. submarine force and its ability to operate globally for many, many years—and the potential influence that can have in various places around the globe,” says Adm. Thomas, “and they’ve decided to go after that model.”

China’s nuclear-sub deployments, some naval experts say, may become the opening gambits of an undersea contest in Asia that echoes the cat-and-mouse game between U.S. and Soviet subs during the Cold War—a history popularized by Tom Clancy’s 1984 novel “The Hunt for Red October.”

Back then, each side sent boomers to lurk at sea, ready to fire missiles at the other’s territory. Each dispatched nuclear hunter-killers to track the other’s boomers and be ready to destroy them.

The collapse of the Soviet Union ended that tournament. But today, as China increases its undersea firepower, the U.S. and its allies are boosting their submarine and anti-sub forces in Asia to counter it.

Neither China nor the U.S. wants a Cold War rerun. Their economies are too interdependent, and today’s market-minded China doesn’t seek global revolution or military parity with the U.S.

Chinese officials say their subs don’t threaten other countries and are part of a program to protect China’s territory and expanding global interests. Chinese defense officials told foreign attachés that the subs entering the Indian Ocean would assist antipiracy patrols off Somalia, say people briefed on the meetings.

Asked about those meetings, China’s defense ministry said its navy’s activities in the Indian and Pacific Oceans “comply with international law and practice, and we maintain good communication with all relevant parties.”

Submarines help Beijing fulfill international duties without changing its defense policy, says China’s navy spokesman, Sr. Capt. Liang Yang. “If a soldier originally has a handgun, and you give him an assault rifle, you’ve increased his firepower, but his responsibilities haven’t changed.” He declines to comment on boomer patrols.

Still, the U.S. has moved subs to the forefront of its so-called rebalancing, a strategy of focusing more military and diplomatic resources on Asia. Sixty percent of the U.S. undersea force is in the Pacific, U.S. naval commanders say, compared with half the U.S. surface fleet. The U.S. Navy plans to station a fourth nuclear attack sub in Guam next year, they say.

Since December, the U.S. has positioned six new P-8 anti-submarine aircraft in Okinawa, Japan. The U.S. has also revitalized an undersea microphone system designed to track Soviet subs and is testing new technologies such as underwater drones to search for Chinese subs.

Navy P-8 Poseidon

(Related Article: As China Deploys Nuclear Submarines, U.S. P-8 Poseidon Jets Snoop on Them)

Several nearby countries, including Australia, have said they plan to expand or upgrade their submarine and anti-sub forces. Vietnam, which is embroiled in a territorial dispute with China, has since December received at least two of the six Russian-made attack subs it has ordered.

Australia’s navy chief, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that the 12 subs his country is buying to replace its six-strong current fleet would need to operate far afield, potentially in contested areas of the South China Sea. “There are other nations in the area that are building their submarine forces as well,” he said. “The issue for us is to be able to consider that we may need to counter those things.”

Rear Adm. Phillip Sawyer, the commander of U.S. submarine forces in the Pacific, says that many more submarines are now operating in the region than during the Cold War. “One of my biggest concerns truthfully is submarine safety,” he says on a recent dive aboard the USS Houston, a nuclear-attack sub based in Hawaii. “The more submarines you put in the same body of water, the higher the probability that they might collide.”

China now has one of the world’s biggest attack-sub fleets, with five nuclear models and at least 50 diesel models. It has four boomers, the ONI says.

Beijing’s quest for a nuclear-sub fleet dates to the 1960s, say Chinese historians. Mao Zedong once declared, “We will build a nuclear submarine even if it takes us 10,000 years!”

China has used diesel subs since the 1950s, but they have proved easy to find because they must surface every few hours. Nuclear subs are faster and can stay submerged for months. China launched its first nuclear sub on Mao’s birthday in 1970 and test-fired its first missile from underwater in 1988, although its first boomer never patrolled carrying armed nuclear missiles, U.S. naval officers say.

Adm. Liu Huaqing, the founder of China’s modern navy, outlined the role of nuclear attack subs in his overall strategy in the 1980s, Chinese historians say. He saw China as constrained by U.S. forces aligned in both a “First Island Chain” stretching from southern Japan to the Philippines and a “Second Island Chain” from northern Japan via Guam to Indonesia. He argued that China should establish naval dominance within the first chain by 2010, within the second chain by 2020 and become a global naval power by 2050.

China officially unveiled its nuclear undersea forces in October 2013 in an unprecedented open day for domestic media at a nuclear-sub base. Its capabilities aren’t close to those of the U.S., which has 14 boomers and 55 nuclear attack subs.

The U.S. concern is how to maintain that edge in Asia when the Navy projects that fiscal constraints will shrink its attack-sub fleet to 41 by 2028.

Beijing isn’t likely to try matching the U.S. sub force, having studied the way the Cold War arms race drained the Soviet Union’s finances. “We’re not that stupid,” says retired Maj. Gen. Xu Guangyu, a former vice president of the People’s Liberation Army Defense Institute.

“But we need enough nuclear submarines to be a credible force—to have some bargaining chips,” he says. “They must go out to the Pacific Ocean and the rest of the world.”

China’s hunter-killers pose the immediate challenge to the U.S. and its partners. Adm. Sawyer has tracked them for more than a decade, first as a commander of U.S. subs in Japan and Guam and now from his headquarters in Pearl Harbor.

On his desk is a glass-encased naval chart with white labels marking China’s submarine bases. Drawn on the map are two lines marking “First Island Chain” and “Second Island Chain.”

Over the past few years, Chinese attack subs have broken beyond the first chain to operate regularly in the Philippine Sea and have started patrolling year-round, Adm. Sawyer says. Penetrating the second chain is the next logical step, he adds: “They are not just building more units and more assets, but they’re actually working to get proficient with them and understand how they’d operate in a far-away-from-home environment.”

Adm. Sawyer declines to say whether China has sent a sub as far as Hawaii but says the December Indian Ocean expedition shows that it has “the capability and the endurance” to do so.

That was a Shang-class sub, a type naval experts say China first launched in 2002 that can carry torpedoes and cruise missiles. In peacetime, China would probably use these hunter-killers to protect sea lanes, track foreign vessels and gather intelligence, naval experts say. But in a conflict, they would likely try to break through the First Island Chain to threaten approaching vessels and disrupt supply lines.

Still, the two recent sub voyages highlighted a weak point for China. Its subs must use narrow straits to reach the Pacific or Indian Oceans. Those chokepoints—among them, the Malacca, Sunda, Lombok, Luzon and Miyako Straits—can be relatively easily monitored or blockaded.

Moreover, China’s anti-sub capabilities remain relatively weak. U.S. subs can track their Chinese counterparts even near China’s shores, where U.S. ships and planes are vulnerable to Chinese aircraft and missiles, American naval officers say.

Adm. Sawyer declines to say whether the U.S. tracked the Shang or how close U.S. subs get to China, saying only: “I’m comfortable with the U.S. submarine force’s capability to execute whatever tasking we’re given.”

The USS Houston returned recently from a seven-month deployment to the Western Pacific. Its commanding officer, Cmdr. Dearcy P. Davis, declines to say exactly where the sub went but adds, “I can say that we went untracked by anyone. We have the ability to break down the door if someone [else] can’t. That’s not trivial.”

China’s missile-carrying boomers present a longer-term challenge.

From the Lan Sanya beach resort in Hainan, guests can easily make out the matte-black hulls of what naval experts say are three of China’s new boomers, known as the Jin-class, and one Shang-class attack sub. As he threw open a hotel room’s curtains, a bellboy beamed with pride and pointed out the vessels across the bay. “Better not go that way,” joked a Jet Ski guide on a recent ride. “They might shoot at us.”

China hasn’t said when it might launch boomer patrols. But Western naval officers saw the October nuclear-sub event as a signal that the Jin subs and their JL-2 missiles were ready to start.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, a former submariner who is now the U.S. chief of naval operations, says that the U.S. is waiting to see how China will use its new boomers. “Is it an occasional patrol they’re going to choose to do? Is it going to be a continuous patrol? Are they going to try to be sure that this patrol is totally undetected?” he says. “I think that’s all going to be in the equation as to our response.”

Soviet boomers ventured far into the Pacific and Atlantic into the 1970s because their missiles couldn’t reach the U.S. from Soviet waters. As missile ranges increased, Soviet subs retreated to so-called bastions, such as the Sea of Okhotsk. The U.S. deployed hunter-killers around those bastions.

Similar dynamics are at play as China decides whether to send its own boomers into the Pacific. Their JL-2 missiles can travel about 4,600 miles—possibly enough to strike the U.S. West Coast from East Asia, the ONI says. To strike more U.S. targets, they would need to lurk throughout the Pacific.

But China’s boomers probably couldn’t pass undetected through many straits, say U.S. officers and Chinese experts. “The Jin class is too noisy: It’s probably at the level of the Soviets between 1970 and 1980,” says Wu Riqiang, a former missile specialist who studies nuclear strategy at Beijing’s Renmin University. “As long as you are noisy, you won’t even go through the chokepoints.”

Early in the Cold War, the U.S. built a network of seabed microphones to listen at chokepoints leading to the Pacific and Atlantic. In recent years, the U.S. has revitalized parts of that network, called the Sound Surveillance System, or Sosus. The U.S. is also now adding mobile networks of sensors—some on underwater drones—and seeking surveillance data from Asian countries. (Related Article: Underwater Drones Join Microphones to Listen for Chinese Subs)

Meanwhile, China is trying to replicate Sosus, say several naval experts. A government-backed scientific journal reported last year that China had built a fiber-optic acoustic network in the South China Sea.

Over the short term, Prof. Wu says, China will probably keep its boomers near its coast, possibly in the South China Sea, which is deepest and furthest from U.S. bases. That, say some naval officers, may explain why China keeps its Jin-class subs in Hainan and why it is pressing territorial claims and hindering U.S. surveillance there.

Last November, China declared an “air-defense identification zone” over the East China Sea and warned of measures against aircraft that entered without identifying themselves in advance. Many U.S. officials expect China to do the same over the South China Sea, although Chinese officials say they have no immediate plans for that.

In August, the Pentagon said a Chinese fighter had flown dangerously close to a U.S. P-8 near Hainan. China’s defense ministry publicly said that its pilot flew safely and asked the U.S. to cease such operations.

This is the Chinese J-11 plane accused of “dangerous” operations by the U.S. Navy on August 19, 2014. — Photographed by the crew of a U.S. P-8A Poseidon. U.S. Navy

The problem with confining boomers to the South China Sea is that Beijing fears that missiles fired from there could be neutralized by the next stages of a U.S. regional missile-defense system, Chinese nuclear experts say.

Prof. Wu, who has taken part in nuclear-strategy negotiations with the U.S., predicts that over the next two decades, China will make quieter boomers that can patrol the open sea even as the U.S. pursues a global missile-defense system.

“I hope the U.S. and China can break this cycle,” he says, “but I’m not optimistic.”

—Rob Taylor in Canberra contributed to this article.

Russian “reckless intercept” of U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane concerns U.S.

June 4, 2014


Russian jet nearly collides with U.S. surveillance aircraft in ‘reckless’ intercept in Asia

June 3, 2014

A Russian Su-27 jet flew dangerously close to a U.S. reconnaissance plane over the Pacific northeast recently in an aerial clash not seen since the Cold War.

An Air Force RC-135 electronic intelligence jet was flying a surveillance run some 60 miles off the Russian Far East coast, north of Japan, on April 23 when the incident occurred, according to defense officials familiar with the incident.

The Su-27 flew to follow the RC-135, and at one point rolled sideways to reveal its air-to-air missile before flying within 100 feet of the cockpit in an attempt to unnerve the crew.

The showdown was video-recorded by the aircrew.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven Warren said the Su-27 intercepted the RC-135U as it conducted a routine surveillance mission in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk during the afternoon of April 23.

“The Su-27 approached the RC-135U  and crossed the nose of the U.S. aircraft within approximately 100 feet,” Warren told the Free Beacon in a brief statement. “Senior department leaders have communicated our concerns directly to the Russian military.”

A defense official said the incident was a “reckless intercept” and one of the most dangerous aerial encounters for a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft since the Cold War.

The RC-135 flight was part of Air Force efforts to increase regional spying under the U.S. pivot to Asia. Last month, two Global Hawk drones were deployed to Japan for spy missions in the region. Other electronic spy aircraft also have increased flights in recent weeks.

The RC-135U is code named “Combat Sent” and specifically collects electronic intelligence from radar emissions. The surveillance flight was collecting data on the increasingly-capable air defense systems in the region. A normal crew for the aircraft includes two pilots, two navigators, three systems engineers, 10 electronic warfare officers and six area specialists.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a former commander in Alaska, voiced concerns about the provocative Russian action.

“The dangerous intercept by a Russian Su-27 is far worse than we experienced during the Cold War,” McInerney told the Washington Free Beacon. “In my four plus years as the Alaskan [North American Aerospace Defense] region commander at the height of the Cold War, we never saw such recklessness by the USSR.”


McInerney added: “President Putin sees weakness in the current American leadership and is trying to intimidate us. It apparently does not bother this administration.”

The U.S.-Russian aerial close call came two days after Japanese warplanes intercepted two Russian military aircraft conducting anti-submarine patrols near Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.

Kenneth deGraffenreid, former White House intelligence adviser during the Reagan administration, said the aerial encounter could have turned deadly, based on Moscow’s history of using force in illegal actions against aircraft transiting international airspace.

According to deGraffenreid, the Russians since the late 1940s have shot down 70 U.S. aircraft. That figure includes the Russian shoot down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in 1983, killing all 269 passengers.

“This has been Russian policy for over 70 years and the Russians are reverting to a very deadly and ugly practice of the Cold War,” he said.

Disclosure of the U.S.-Russian aerial faceoff comes as the Obama administration last week approved Russia’s use of upgraded sensors on aircraft used to overfly sensitive U.S. and allied military installations in Europe under the 1992 Open Skies Treaty.

“After careful consideration the United States has decided to certify the electro-optical sensor for the Russian Federation’s AN-30 Open Skies Treaty aircraft, which is used in Open Skies flights over Europe,” the administration said in a statement.

The upgraded sensors were opposed by Congress and U.S. military and intelligence officials over concerns the new equipment will increase the national security risk posed by Russian aerial spying.

The certification, under consideration for the past several months, is the latest round in a battle between House Republicans and the administration over the Russian spy flights.

The fiscal 2015 defense authorization bill contains a provision that would prohibit using any funds to certify the upgraded Russian aircraft sensors.

The provision blocks certification unless the Pentagon and intelligence leaders certify to Congress that the digital equipment “will not enhance the capability or potential of the Russian Federation to gather intelligence that poses an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States.”

It also would link new equipment approval under Open Skies to a requirement that Russia is no longer illegally occupying Ukrainian territory and is no longer violating the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

“The committee is committed to effective and complete compliance with the Treaty on Open Skies, provided such compliance is not allowed to become a threat to the national security of the United States,” the bill says.

The White House, in a statement of policy, said it “strongly objects” to the congressional restrictions.

“This limitation would infringe on the ability of the United States to implement its rights and obligations under the treaty,” the Office of Management and Budget said May 19. “A prohibition on U.S. participation in certification procedures would prevent the United States from reviewing, examining, or raising concerns regarding a proposed Russian aircraft or sensor.”

“The administration should immediately reconsider this decision which benefits Russia, not the United States or our allies,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told the Free Beacon. “It is careless for the administration to approve Russia’s request for a sensor upgrade given that country’s recent record and its compliance issues.”

Four members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence—two Republicans and two Democrats—also expressed opposition to the sensor upgrade. The senators wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this year urging him to “carefully evaluate the ramifications of certification on future Open Skies observation flights.”

The Russian invasion of Crimea and other efforts to destabilize Ukraine are “sufficient enough to counsel further review, irrespective of any technical concerns that may exist,” the senators said. It was signed by Republicans Dan Coats of Indiana and James E. Risch of Idaho, and Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.

“Sen. Coats is very disappointed that the administration chose to rapidly approve the new Russian capabilities so soon after the invasion of Crimea and Moscow’s efforts to destabilize Ukraine, particularly given the concerns of key American stakeholders,” said Coats’ spokesman Matt Lahr.

Risch also said he opposed the certification “until Russia becomes fully compliant with their other treaty obligations and is no longer illegally occupying Ukrainian territory.”

“Allowing the Russians to upgrade this sensor at this time does not illustrate strength or resolve to President Putin,” Risch said through a spokeswoman.

A Defense Science Board task force published in January said upgrading U.S. Open Skies aircraft would be a waste of money, even though Russia is upgrading its aircraft.

“The sensor specifications permitted by the treaty are outdated when compared with the need,” the report said. “In fact, the existing treaty requirements can be fulfilled by sensor information readily available from commercial imagery without the expense of flight missions or sensor upgrades.”

The State Department, the agency leading the Obama administration’s arm control-centered agenda, pushed for the aircraft certification in a bid to protect the treaty, even though Russia has violated several of its provisions.

A 2013 State Department report on arms compliance said the Russians are violating the Open Skies treaty by restricting spy flights over parts of Moscow, Chechnya, and near the Russian border with Georgia. The Russians also closed airfields and failed to provide proper film in violation of the treaty.

The White House said in a statement that the certification would allow the switch from film to digital photography.

“All states parties agree that the transition from film cameras to digital sensors is required for the long-term viability of the treaty,” the statement said.

Said John Bolton, former undersecretary of state for arms control: “Especially in light of Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine, the last thing we should be doing is indulging in the illusion of Russia honoring its arms control agreements.”

Mark Schneider, a former Pentagon strategic nuclear policymaker, added that he has never regarded the Open Skies accord as important. “But right now we ought to be thinking about deterrence, not playing arms control games,” he said.

The Russian violation of international airspace contrasts sharply with the Obama administration’s insistence on pursuing legal international arms agreements with Russia as a way to win Moscow’s favor, said deGraffenreid, the former White House intelligence adviser.

“They are cheating on arms control agreements so how can we trust them when they are interfering with aircraft in international airspace in violation of international law?” he asked. “If we can’t trust them on that, there is no ground for cooperation.”

The treaty, signed by 34 nations, is a confidence-building measure that allows legal spying on military sites. “It contributes to European security by providing images and information on Russian forces, and by permitting observation flights to verify compliance with arms control agreements,” the White House statement said.

The treaty permits flights using four types of sensors: optical panoramic and framing cameras, video cameras with real-time display, infrared line-scanning devices, and sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar.