Spy Versus Spy


One week ago today, one of our most advanced underwater surveillance ships, the USNS Impeccable, was minding our own business, in international waters, at least 75 miles of the coast of Hainan Island, well beyond China’s territorial waters, mapping the ocean floor spying on the recently discovered underground Yulin (Sanya) Naval Base. Well, naturally the Chinese didn’t like us monitoring their secret submarine base and so they decided to create an international incident.

U.S., China spar over ship incident

The U.S. Navy ship that got into a scrape with five Chinese vessels last weekend in the South China Sea was looking for threats such as submarines — presumably Chinese — in waters that China claims as its own, defense officials said Tuesday.

The United States maintains that the unarmed USNS Impeccable was operating legally in international waters when it was surrounded and harassed by the Chinese. Beijing responded hotly to a U.S. protest over Sunday’s incident, and neither nation is backing down, even as they prepare for a much-anticipated first meeting between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao next month.

Although they wouldn’t be specific about the Impeccable’s mission when it was intercepted by the Chinese ships, two defense officials said the unarmed ship is designed and equipped for sub-hunting work and was part of a calculated U.S. surveillance operation in the disputed South China Sea.

The surveillance ship tows a sonar apparatus that scans and listens for foreign threats that also include mines and torpedoes. The sonar array was deployed at the time of the confrontation, and a U.S. account says Chinese mariners tried to snag it with poles. The ship is operated by a civilian crew under Navy supervision.

Pentagon says Chinese vessels harassed U.S. ship

The Pentagon said Monday that Chinese ships harassed a U.S. surveillance ship Sunday in the South China Sea in the latest of several instances of “increasingly aggressive conduct” in the past week.

During the incident, five Chinese vessels “shadowed and aggressively maneuvered in dangerously close proximity to USNS Impeccable, in an apparent coordinated effort to harass the U.S. ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters,” the Pentagon said in a written statement.

The crew members aboard the vessels, two of which were within 50 feet, waved Chinese flags and told the U.S. ship to leave the area, the statement said.

“Because the vessels’ intentions were not known, Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the vessels in order to protect itself,” the statement said. “The Chinese crewmembers disrobed to their underwear and continued closing to within 25 feet.”

After the Impeccable alerted the Chinese ships “in a friendly manner” that it was seeking a safe path to depart the area, two of the Chinese ships stopped “directly ahead of USNS Impeccable, forcing Impeccable to conduct an emergency ‘all stop’ in order to avoid collision,” the statement said.

“They dropped pieces of wood in the water directly in front of Impeccable’s path.”

China says U.S. provoked naval incident

China lashed out at the United States on Tuesday, blaming a U.S. Navy ship for violating international law during a tense confrontation near a Chinese submarine base.

The Pentagon said five Chinese vessels had blocked and surrounded a U.S. surveillance ship, Impeccable, in international waters Sunday. One of the ships came within 25 feet of the U.S. boat, the Pentagon said.

“The U.S. claims are gravely in contravention of the facts and confuse black and white, and they are totally unacceptable to China,” said Ma Zhaoxu, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, at a briefing Tuesday in Beijing.

He did not specify what laws the U.S. ship had broken, but said the Impeccable had “conducted activities in China’s special economic zone in the South China Sea without China’s permission.”

Although the United States and other nations consider most of the South China Sea to be international waters, China claims an economic exclusion zone extending 200 nautical miles, or 230 miles, from its coastline.

The encounter Sunday was the latest in a series of recent incidents in which Chinese ships shadowed the towering, twin-hulled Impeccable. The Pentagon said the confrontation took place in the South China Sea, about 120 kilometers, or 75 miles, from the island of Hainan, where China has an underground naval complex with submarine caves.

A United States Navy photo obtained by The New York Times showed a Chinese sailor manning a long grappling hook, and a navy spokesman said the Chinese had used the hook to try to snag a cable that the Impeccable was using to tow an underwater listening device known as a Surtass array.

So, both sides are basically arguing about where the Impeccable was located. She was well within international waters as the United States claims and also well within one of the Special Economic Zones of the People’s Republic of China, kind of like the overlapping regions in a Venn diagram. Well, seeing as how the Impeccable was in international waters and was admittedly not engaged in any “economic activity”, I’m going to have to side with the good guys on this, the Chinese were legally wrong to interfere with the Impeccable’s navigation.

Of course the Chinese, if history is any guide, probably aren’t about to let something like international law stand in the way of one of our ships spying on their submarine base, so the U.S. upped the ante.

US destroyers to escort ships in South China Sea

The United States has decided to provide heavily armed destroyers to escort US surveillance ships operating in the South China Sea after a tense naval standoff this week, a US official said on Thursday.

“Right now they are going to escort these types of ships for the foreseeable future,” the defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

The US government has said Chinese boats moved directly in front of the US Navy surveillance vessel Impeccable on Sunday, forcing the ship to take emergency action to avoid a collision.

A day after the incident, the USS Chung-Hoon destroyer accompanied the Impeccable, an unarmed ship designed to track submarines, in the same area, the official said.

Since Sunday’s high-seas standoff, there have been no incidents of harassment from Chinese boats or aircraft, he said.

In response, the Chinese have now sortied the China Yuzheng 311.

China sends large patrol boat to South China Sea

China has deployed a large fisheries patrol boat to a group of disputed islands in the South China Sea, a state newspaper said Sunday, a week after a U.S. Navy vessel and Chinese ships had a confrontation in those waters.

The Beijing News said the vessel, China Yuzheng 311, would reach the Paracel Islands on Sunday to patrol China’s exclusive economic zone and strengthen fishery administration in the South China Sea.

The ship, a converted Chinese naval rescue vessel, was deployed Tuesday from Guangzhou in southern China, it said. Calls to China’s Fisheries Administration rang unanswered Sunday.

Fishery administration my ass! Although little is known (at least unclassified information) about the Yuzheng 311, at 113.5 meters long and 15.5 meters wide and at 4,450 tonnes, you can bet it’s bristling with signals intelligence gear that has absolutely nothing to do with monitoring Chinese fisheries. You can also bet that there will be armed Chinese escorts in the vicinity.

And so, we’ll see how far this game of Chicken escalates an/or which side backs down first, if any.

See also:
At Sea Onboard USNS IMPECCABLE
T-AGOS 23 Impeccable Swath-L (Large) Ocean Surveillance Ship
Surveillance Towed-Array Sensor System (SURTASS)
AN/UQQ-2 Surveillance Towed-Array Sensor System (SURTASS)
Obama calls for more military talks with China
Obama, China seek calm as sea dispute grinds on
Despite Ship Incident, China Calls for Cooperative Ties with US
China’s Naval Secrets
Secret Sanya – China’s new nuclear naval base revealed
China’s secret underground naval base at Sanya-Yulin
China builds new nuclear submarine base
Type 094 Jin-class Ballistic Missile Submarine
Type 094 (Jin Class) Nuclear-Powered Missile Submarine
Jin class Ballistic missile submarine
Two More Chinese SSBNs Spotted
JL-2 (CSS-NX-4)
JL-2 (CSS-NX-4)
CSS-NX-5 (JL-2)
JuLang-2 (CSS-NX-4) Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile
USS CHUNG-HOON (DDG 93)
USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93)
USS CHUNG-HOON (DDG-93)
Beijing raises stakes with tit-for-tat deployment in South China Sea
Surveillance vessel out on patrol
Special Economic Zone

/oh, and if Hainan Island rings a bell or sounds vaguely familiar, it should

2 Responses

  1. No military forces in the world are “good guys”. They are an entity unto themselves. Their ultimate aim is to create conflict in order to sustain their funding. They are often used by political forces as diversion in bad times. Now US is in deep financial trouble, what good way to divert national focus onto something else, i.e. “the yellow threat”.

  2. […] Remember this? China has a history of physical confrontations at sea over disputed waters, so I’d bet good money that this latest incident was deliberately instigated by the Chinese and therefore I blame them. Japan has every right to fully investigate the Chinese captain until they get this episode sorted out to their satisfaction. […]

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