The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has launched combat drills in the South China Sea, Xinhua news agency reports. The exact location and the duration of the naval exercise involving elements of the South Sea Fleet, the PLAN fleet responsible for the South China Sea, are unknown.
“Three naval ships of China’s Nanhai [South Sea] Fleet left a naval port in Sanya, Hainan Province, on Wednesday, kicking off an annual combat drill in the South China Sea and neighboring waters,” according to Xinhua. Sanya is the southernmost city of Hainan Island, which is located in the South China Sea and home to a naval base for nuclear submarines as well as a naval air force base.
The ships participating in the drill include the Type 052D (also known as the Luyang–III-class) guided-missile destroyer Hefei, the Type 052C (also known as the Luyang-II-class) guided-missile destroyer Lanzhou, and the Type 052B (also known as the Luyang-I-class) multirole-missile destroyer Guangzhou, the Type 054A (also known as the Jiangkai-II-class) multi-role frigates Sanya and Yulin, as well as the PLAN supply ship Honghu. All of the ships mentioned are part of the PLAN’s South Sea Fleet.
Type 052D guided-missile destroyers are among the most advanced Chinese surface warfare ships. As the The Diplomat reported previously (See: “China’s South Sea Fleet Gets Another Guided Missile Destroyer”):
According to a report on the PLAN from the Pentagon’s Office of Naval Intelligence, the Type 052D “embodies the trend [in China] toward a more flexible force with advanced air defenses and long-range strike capability.” The entire Type 052 series (including the Type 052B and C as well) is “considered to be modern and capable designs that are comparable in many respects to the most modern Western warships.”
Interestingly, the military exercise will also involve Chinese forces stationed on both the Spratly and Paracel islands. “The fleet will mobilize naval air force, garrison forces in the Xisha [Paracel] and Nansha [Spratly] islands, and forces of the Beihai [North Sea] Fleet along the way to take part in the drill.”
China has been expanding its military presence on the largest of the Paracel islands–Woody Island–for the past four years. Woody Island contains a sizeable PLA and PLAN garrison, a nearly 3,000 meter-long airstrip, and a harbor. The Chinese military has also stationed advanced YJ-62 anti-ship cruise missiles and fourth-generation fighter aircraft on the island. China is also in the process of expanding its military presence on the Spratly Islands and is currently constructing at least two airstrips there.
It is unclear in what way the troops and aircraft stationed on the islands will participate in the exercises.
“The drill aims to enhance combat readiness and practice coordination between ships and aircraft, and other forces,” according to the PLAN. “With three helicopters and dozens of ‘special warfare’ soldiers, the fleet will be separated into three groups that will sail to areas of the South China Sea, the east Indian Ocean, and the west Pacific, to conduct varied drills.”