China's Aircraft carrier Liaoning and 11 Warships Enter to Philippine Sea for Exercises

China's Aircraft carrier Liaoning and 11 Warships Enter to Philippine Sea for Exercises
China's Aircraft carrier Liaoning and 11 Warships Enter to Philippine Sea for Exercises

Beijing - A large number of Chinese Navy ships were seen entering the Philippine Sea in recent days. They include the aircraft carrier Liaoning. Observers called it the most powerful deployment ever undertaken by the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

As many as 11 Chinese warships have been seen in recent days passing a string of Japanese islands stretching south toward Taiwan, including the aircraft carrier Liaoning and three PLAN mighty Type 055 destroyers. According to Japanese military officials, the PLAN task force includes the Liaoning, the Type 055 guided-missile destroyers Wuxi and Anshan, the Type 054A frigate Zaozhuang, the Type 052D destroyer Chengdu, and the Type 901 comprehensive replenishment vessel Hulunhu.

On Friday, the flotilla passed through the Miyako Strait, a 135-mile-wide strategic gap in the island chain that stretches from Japan's home island to Taiwan. Separately last week, Japanese military officials reported a task force led by the Type 055 Lhasa destroyer and including the Type 052D Kaifeng destroyer and Type 903A reloader Taihu had also entered the Philippine Sea from the East China Sea, this time via the Osumi Strait.

The strait is a narrow waterway, which passes between the Japanese islands of Kyushu and Tanegashima. The strait was made international waters by Japan during the Cold War so that US warships laden with nuclear weapons could transit without violating Tokyo's nuclear weapons ban on its territory.

In addition, the Dongdiao-class reconnaissance ship and the Sovremenny Taizhou-class destroyer, one of four ships that Russia is building for China, were also reported to have passed through the Miyako Strait into the Philippine Sea a few days earlier. However, it should be noted that there have been no reports that the three groups of ships have united for joint exercises.

Experts have told Chinese media that Chinese carriers have only ever been deployed with one Type 055 at a time, so the inclusion of at least two, and possibly three warships in the task force will likely mean new types of exercises to better combine them.

The PLAN has eight Type 055s, which are the second largest surface combatant in service with any nation. The ship has only been outperformed by the US Navy's handful of Zumwalt-class destroyers. They carry a suite of advanced radar and missile systems, including hypersonic weapons.

The Philippine Sea occupies a very strategic position, bordered on the east by the US island of Guam, which has major naval and air bases; US allies Japan to the north and the Philippines to the south; and Taiwan to the west, a Chinese island controlled by forces backed by the US and its allies in the region.

Several times in the past year, the Philippine Sea has been the site of Chinese exercises meant to send messages to the Taiwanese separatists and foreign powers backing them. During exercises in May, the diesel-powered Liaoning pushed the limits of its deployment capabilities, staying in the Philippine Sea for several weeks as it conducted continuous flight operations with the air wing of the J-15 “Flying Shark” fighter, part of the Su-27 family of derivatives.

However, the US and Japan also regularly conduct exercises in the Philippine Sea, sending out maritime patrols and conducting their own carrier exercises. Until a few years ago, American dominance over the waterway was unquestioned, but the building of three aircraft carriers and scores of modern warships has allowed China to project power beyond the Miyako and Luzon straits on a regular basis.

The Chinese drills come just days after Japan announced major steps toward remilitarization, decades after being made a neutral nation. When Tokyo was defeated at the end of World War II and forced to give up its vast colonial empire, its new constitution required it to remain neutral and give up offensive military weapons.

However, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida revealed in the previous days in December an intention to double Japan's defense budget over the next five years. Japan's move envisages the introduction of an offensive cyberwarfare capability, a hypersonic weapons program and a deal to buy the Tomahawk, a long-range cruise missile made by the United States.

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