Category Archives: China

Things heat up near South China Sea: two U.S. aircraft carriers, B-52s and EA-18G Growler detachment

The U.S. build-up in the disputed waters of South China Sea continues with bombers, carriers and Electronic Attack planes.

Some interesting photographs have been arriving from the troubled waters of Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

The most recent ones, released on Jun. 18, show the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) carrier strike groups (CSG 3 and CSG 5) crusing close each other during dual carrier flight operations in the Philippine Sea.

Such operations included air combat training, long-range strike training, air defense drills as well as sea surveillance.

The CSG 3, that started operations in the Western Pacific on Feb. 4, consists of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) and guided-missile destroyers of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 21, USS Stockdale (DDG 106), USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) and USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110), and the aircraft of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9.

CSG 5, begun its summer patrol of the Indo-Asia Pacific, on Jun. 4, and consists of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), guided-missile cruisers USS Shiloh (CG 67) and USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) and guided-missile destroyers from Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54), USS McCampbell (DDG 85), USS Benfold (DDG 65); the aircraft of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan and routinely, patrols the Western Pacific.

According to the U.S. Navy, the CSGs (Carrier Strike Groups) began coordinated operations in international waters to demonstrate “the United States unique capability to operate multiple carrier strike groups in close proximity.”

U.S. Navy aircraft carriers regularly conduct dual carrier strike group operations in the Western Pacific and sometimes also in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Philippine Sea: this occurs when carriers deployed to the 7th Fleet area of operations from the U.S. West Coast are joined with the forward deployed carrier strike group from Japan. When it happens a force of 12,000 sailors, 140 aircraft, six combatants and two carriers operates in the same sea: an impressive “show of force.”

Two carriers in South China Sea

Previously, in Sept. 2012, USS George Washington (CVN 73) and USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) strike groups conducted combined operation in the South China Sea and East China Sea. In 2001, USS Constellation (CV 64) and Carl Vinson operated together in the South China Sea.

A few days before the two carriers started combined operations, a joint service bombing exercise at the targeting island Farallon de Medinilla, an uninhabited small island in the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean located 45 nautical miles north of Saipan, saw two U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers launched from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, fly over USS Spruance (DDG 111) in a maritime attack training sortie.

Along with the two carrier strike groups and the B-52 providing extended deterrence, Washington has also deployed to the Philippines the first temporary detachment of Navy EA-18G Growlers.

The electronic attack aircraft have arrived at Clark Air Base, on Jun. 15. Even though they are officially there to train with the local FA-50, the detachment, made of 4 aircraft and 120 personnel with the Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 138, “will support routine operations that enhance regional maritime domain awareness and assure access to the air and maritime domains in accordance with international law.”

Therefore, the strategical deployment brought not far from the disputed waters in the South China Sea some cutting-edge aircraft capable to perform electronic escort missions on both U.S. ships and spyplanes that are frequently shadowed by Chinese spyplanes or intelligence gathering ships. Furthermore, the Growlers could jam, if needed, the Chinese radars on the Spratly, Paracel, Pratas and the rest of the islands, including those that have been artificially created, decreasing Beijing ability to establish an ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) similar to that in the East China Sea and to support its warplanes in the area.

The presence of (some more…) EA-18Gs could theoretically limit the operations of the Chinese Air Force (PLAAF) and Navy (PLANAF) that, according to “Flashpoint China: Chinese air power and regional security” published by Harpia Publishing and written by Andreas Rupprecht, one of the most authoritative sources on Chinese Air Power, “are able to ensure virtually continuos, round-the-clock aerial coverage and combat air patrols over the area during a crisis or a conflict.”

In particular, the PLANAF is pretty active in the area with a regiment each of H-6 bombers and JH-7 fighter-bombers and no fewer than three regiments of J-11 interceptors covering the South China Sea . “The availability of long-range J-11s and aerial refueling assets implies that much of the SCS [South China Sea] is now de-facto Chinese airspace,” says Rupprecht.

It’s not a coincidence that a recent close encounter in the area involved few weeks ago two Chinese J-11 tactical aircraft that carried out an “unsafe” intercept of a U.S. EP-3E reconnaissance aircraft on a routine mission in international airspace over the South China Sea.

VAQ-138 Clark AFB refuel

The Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 138 is an expeditionary squadron based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, that has previously taken part in deployments across the region. The Growler detachment comes after a first temporary Air Contingent made of five A-10C Thunderbolt aircraft, three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and approximately 200 personnel deployed from multiple Pacific Air Forces units that took part in exercise Balikatan and completed their final mission on April 28, 2016.

Image credit: U.S. Navy

Salva

U.S. F/A-18Es performed an airborne change of command in the skies near the disputed South China Sea islands

Airborne change of command U.S. Navy-style over South China Sea.

On Mar 7, revitalizing a time-honored naval tradition, three F/A-18E Super Hornets assigned to the Warhawks of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 97 executed an airborne change of command overhead USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) as Cmdr. Doug Peterson was relieved by Cmdr. Matt Doyle as commanding officer.

As the aircraft carrier was sailing in the South China Sea the three “Rhinos” (as the Super Hornets are dubbed by their aircrews) performed a symbolic formation lead change with Capt. Richard Brophy, Commander, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9, presiding over the transfer of leadership while a flight deck full of Warhawk Sailors and other spectators watched below.

Stennis South China Sea

On Mar. 9, the USS John C. Stennis left the South China Sea where it had been dispatched five days earlier for a freedom of navigation exercise.

As reported by NavyTimes.com, with China claiming most of the islands of the region, many experts believe that the aircraft carrier was dispatched in the area to perform a deliberate show of force to emphasize U.S. Navy’s right to operate in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

The Pentagon stated that the Stennis entered the South China Sea twice, while crusing towars and back from joint exercises with South Korea.

VFA-97 Super Hornet

Noteworthy, during the transit in the South China Sea the USS John C. Stennis was followed by People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warships which remained in the vicinity of the U.S. Navy carrier.

However according to a U.S. Navy press release the interactions with the Chinese Navy were professional.

Moreover in an effort to reduce tensions in the area the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group (CSG) command ship Blue Ridge will visit China later this spring where 7th Fleet head Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin will hold talks with his counterparts about the chance to increase communication between the two countries to avoid confrontations at sea.

Stennis Disputed Waters

Image credit: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Rodriguez Santiago and Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Tomas Compian / U.S. Navy

While B-2s deploy to the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. is considering moving B-1 bombers to Australian soil

U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific theatre grows.

On Mar. 10, the U.S. announced the deployment of three Air Force B-2 stealth bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing, from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, to the Asia-Pacific region amid growing tensions with North Korea.

Although the U.S. Air Force has not disclosed where the aircraft will be based, it is quite likely that the aircraft will operate out of Andersen Air Force Base, in Guam, strategically located in the Pacific, that has already hosted U.S. bombers involved in extended deterrence missions in the region.

On the previous day, Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a spokesman for the U.S. Air Force, told to Reuters that the U.S. could deploy long-range bombers to Australia as concerns over China’s military expansion in the Asia-Pacific area continue to grow.

In fact, as reported by FoxNews.com, high-level discussions are in progress to deploy B-1 bombers in northern Australia and to expand B-52 bomber missions in the region, even if details such as the duration of the rotations and the number of personnel involved are still being hammered out.

Pickart added that these deployments would not only provide training opportunities for U.S. airmen but they would also deliver Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Pacific Command leaders “a credible global strike and deterrence capability to help maintain peace and security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.”

The talks about the chance to rotate bombers through northern Australia come in the wake of a freedom of navigation exercise conducted by the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) and its Carrier Strike Group (CSG) in the South China Sea, where China is militarizing the region to guard its excessive territorial claims.

However an agreement between the two nations about bomber rotations in Australia would put USAF B-1B Lancers within striking distance of the South China Sea, most likely a move that would add more pressure on China, as already highlighted by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei “Cooperation among relevant countries should protect regional peace and stability, and not target the interests of third parties.”

Noteworthy while the U.S. Air Force conducts B-52 missions from Australia periodically, doesn’t fly any B-1s from there.

Moreover, as we have explained, this is not the first time that U.S. take in consideration the chance to base the Lancers on the Australian continent, but any previous rumour about this possibility never turned into the real thing.

Nevertheless an eventual deployment of the B-1B in Australia could finally bring back the Lancer in the Pacific Region.

In fact, unlike the B-52 and the B-2, the B-1B has been taken out from the Continuous Bomber Presence (CBP) rotation at Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base because it can’t carry any kind of nuclear weapon.

On the contrary giving its conventional bombing role the Bone has been heavy tasked in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

B-1B Australian soil

Image credit: Senior Airman Kate Maure and Airman 1st Class Peter Thompson / U.S. Air Force

 

 

Two U.S. B-52 skirt Chinese-controlled man-made island in the South China Sea sparking Chinese protest

Two American Stratofortress bombers flew within 12 miles of the disputed islands.

On Dec. 10, two U.S. Air Force B-52 strategic bombers on a routine long-range mission flew within 12 nautical miles (the standard boundary of the territorial waters) of one of the seven Chinese man-made islands in the South China Sea, sparking China’s protests.

Although Washington has not taken an official stance on sovereignty claims surrounding the islands it does maintain that China’s new islands do not enjoy the traditional 12NM territorial limit. However, according to the Pentagon, the aircraft were not flying a so-called “freedom of navigation” mission (a pre-planned navigation used to assert U.S. rights to “innocent passage” in or close to other nation’s territorial waters): one of the aircraft flew within 2 miles of an artificial island along unintentional route. Interesting, since “navigation errors” are a bit surprising on long-range bombers equipped with redundant GPS, INS systems that should make their navigation quite accurate.

Noteworthy, according to the Associated Press, the B-52 strategic bombers and that they issued radio warnings demanding the aircraft leave the area after the intrusion: last month, a Russian Su-24 bomber that allegedly ignored the radio warnings issued by a Turkish Air Force radar station was shot down by a TuAF F-16 after violating the Turkish airspace near the border with Syria.

China’s Defense Ministry considers the U.S. mission in the vicinity of the islands a serious military provocation and a deliberate attempt at raising tensions in the region.

U.S. B-52 and B-2 bombers routinely fly nuclear deterrence missions in the Asia-Pacific theater. In November 2013, a flight of two U.S. B-52 bombers departed from Guam airbase entered the new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over East China Sea close to the disputed islands without complying with any of the rules set by Beijing for the ADIZ. In that case, the mission intentionally skirted the disputed Diaoyu Islands (known as Senkaku islands in Japan).

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

Audio and Video of the U.S. P-8A aircraft defying China’s Navy warnings to leave airspace over disputed islands

A P-8A Poseidon from Patrol Squadron (VP) 45 captures surveillance footage of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) conducting land reclamation operations in the South China Sea.

On May 20, a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft belonging to Patrol Squadron (VP) 45 conducted a routing surveillance flight over the South China Sea, where has started building an airstrip on the disputed Spratly Islands in the waters claimed by the Philippines.

During the flight, the crew of the P-8A documented several warnings, issued by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), most probably on the International Emergency (“Guard”) frequency 121.5 MHz, to leave the area as the U.S. military plane was approaching their military alert zone.

Interestingly, the U.S. aircraft replies to the Chinese Navy operators urging it to leave their area “quickly” as follows:

“Station calling U.S. military plane, please identify yourself”.

Then, after receiving confirmation that it was a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) operator, the answer is always the same: “I’m a U.S. military aircraft conducting lawful military activities outside national airspace; I’m operating with due regard as required under International Law.”

The audio seems to be disturbed by some kind of jamming.

Anyway, according to the U.S. Navy, the P-8 mission documented the continued expansion of reefs which have been turned into man-made islands with airport infrastructure in the South China Sea.