September 26, 2014

USN confirms presence of Chinese spy ship off Guam

25 September 2014
A People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Type 815 (Dongdiao)-class auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) vessel was detected in waters off Guam where a US military exercise was ongoing, a US Navy (USN) spokesperson confirmed to IHS Jane's on 22 September.

"I can confirm the presence of a Chinese AGI surveillance ship in the US Economic Exclusion Zone [EEZ] near Guam," Commander Steven Curry, a spokesman for US Pacific Fleet, told IHS Jane's . "The ship is not disrupting our 'Valiant Shield' exercise and is adhering to well-established international rules that military operations in international commons and outside of territorial waters and airspace is a fundamental right of all nations."

The vessel was detected as a number of US military assets participated in 'Valiant Shield', a biennial exercise that began on 15 September involving 18,000 US military personnel and more than 200 aircraft and 19 surface ships. These include two aircraft carriers, USS George Washington (CVN 73) and USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).

While the ship was not operating inside the 12 n mile border that denotes US territorial seas, the AGI was sailing within the US EEZ, which extends 200 n miles from a nation's coast according to international maritime law.

Officials could not confirm that the AGI observed off Guam is the same vessel that was detected in international waters around Hawaii in July 2014 during the 'Rim of the Pacific 2014' ('RIMPAC 2014') naval exercise. That AGI's presence caught exercise planners by surprise as the PLAN was an invited participant in the multinational biennial drill - billed as the world's largest maritime training event.

Exercise officials told IHS Jane's that the AGI was monitored daily and confirmed that it was observed to be operating near the 'RIMPAC' flagship, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).

According to IHS Jane's Fighting Ships , the PLAN has a fleet of three AGIs, with the third vessel launched on 29 March. Each vessel is equipped with up to three radomes that have been described as "high-technology radio signal gathering and processing equipment" in literature provided by builders of the third AGI vessel, Hudong Zhonghua Shipbuilding Group. Little else is known on the capability of these sensors.

The 6,000-tonne vessels can attain a top speed of 20 kt and are armed with one manually operated 37 mm and two dual 14.5 mm cannons each.

During the 2012 iteration of 'RIMPAC', the PLAN also dispatched a similar surveillance vessel to the area.

China and the United States have differing interpretations of military operations in EEZs - a difference that was recently highlighted by a PLA Air Force Su-27's interception of a US Navy Boeing P-8 maritime patrol aircraft in the South China Sea. While there is nothing illegal in PLAN's latest dispatch of a spy ship to Guam, the move may undermine recent progress in naval bilateral relations between the two countries.

Such a manoeuvre would not have been surprising in the past, but the PLAN's latest dispatch of an AGI to spy on activities at 'Valiant Shield 2014' runs contrary to recent overtones by the Chinese that it is moving towards greater transparency with rival armed forces such as the USN by granting ship visits and facilitating personnel exchanges at Hawaii during 'RIMPAC 2014'.

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