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Russia and China Escalate Maritime Military Exercises

Published: October 20, 2021
DALIAN, CHINA - MAY 13: China's first home-built aircraft carrier sets out from a port of Dalian DSIC (Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Co.) Shipyard for sea trials on May 13, 2018 in Dalian, Liaoning Province of China. (Image: Getty Images)

On Oct. 15, Russia and China participated in joint naval drills in the Sea of Japan where they practiced how to operate together and how to destroy floating enemy mines with artillery fire, according to a statement by the Russian defence ministry. 

“The war games are part of naval cooperation drills between the two countries which run from Oct. 14-17 and involve warships and support vessels from Russia’s Pacific Fleet, including mine-sweepers and a submarine.” Reuters reported.

Russia and China escalate military cooperation

The four-day joint Russian-Chinese maritime exercises ended on Oct. 17. The Russian and Chinese navies practiced minesweeping, shooting at sea targets with naval guns, fleet air defense and communications, among other things. 

Russia also sent its leading fighter aircraft, the Su-30SM, and air defense units to participate in the exercises. Both sides used submarines in the activities, and China sent fixed-wing anti-submarine aircraft. Last week, the Chinese fleet arrived in Peter the Great Bay near Vladivostok, home of Russia’s Pacific Fleet.

Of particular note to many Russian military observers is the special emphasis on searching for the imaginary enemy’s underwater submarines and blocking the waters associated with the imaginary enemy’s submarine activity, indicating that the joint maritime military exercises are well targeted. Moskovsky Komsomolets — a Moscow based daily newspaper — said that the Russian-Chinese maritime exercises, highlighting anti-submarine warfare, are particularly beneficial to China. This approach is interested in drawing Russia into a military confrontation with the United States and its allies. The United States, Britain, and Australia have just formed a trilateral alliance called “AUKUS.”

The prominent Russian newspaper said diesel-electric submarines in the exercise on both sides indicates that the two navies are further strengthening their trust in each other. But this does not mean that the two countries are true allies. The report argues that if the two sides use nuclear submarines in the exercise and fire missiles from both Russian and Chinese nuclear submarines, that would be evidence of a natural strategic alliance between the two navies. But, the exercise still shows the escalating level of interaction and cooperation between the two navies and the desire of both sides to demonstrate their shared interests in the Asia-Pacific region.

The flagship of the Russian fleet, participating in the Russian-Chinese maritime exercises, is the large anti-submarine ship, Admiral Panteleev. The Russian Pacific Fleet’s primary warship also conducted joint Russian-Japanese naval exercises with Japanese Navy destroyers in Peter the Great Bay in Oct. 2014, where the two sides practiced life-saving at sea, among other things. The Admiral Panteleev also visited Hakodate, Japan, three years ago, and earlier visited Maizuru, Japan.

Comparison of Russian and Chinese naval warships

China has been boosting its naval capabilities in recent years, with many warships launching into service. Some Russian military analysts believe that with the launch of the Type 055 large destroyer with a displacement of more than 10-thousand tons, the Chinese Navy has thus made up for the extended lack of cruisers in the surface warfare fleet. The Chinese Navy’s Type 055 Nanchang is also another focus of Russian military observers. It is participating in the Russian-Chinese joint naval exercises for the first time in the Sea of Japan.

In addition to the Nanchang ship, China sent a Type 052D destroyer and two Type 054A frigates to the military exercise. Some Russian military commentators say that the Chinese fleet is more potent than the Russian lineup. The Admiral Panteleev, which has been in service since the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, looks a bit antique. Russia’s two new 20380 corvettes, which have been in service for the last few years, can only be used near the sea, but China’s two 054A frigates can operate in the far ocean.

Aside from weaknesses such as small displacement and the inability to operate in distant oceans, the Russian 20380 corvette is a class above the Chinese Type 054A in terms of armament level. Russian military commentators also believe that the Russian Naval Design Bureau was involved in designing the Chinese Type 054A in its early years, which makes the Type 054A very similar to the Russian Navy’s Type 11356 frigate. In addition, some of the Type 054A’s radars, anti-aircraft missile systems, etc., are produced under Russian production licenses or are copies of Russian weapons systems. Russia plans to add the Zircon hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile system to the 20380 corvettes in the future.

Previous joint exercises delayed

The Russian and Chinese navies did not hold joint maritime exercises last year because of the epidemic. However, the two sides had joint naval exercises in 2019 in the waters of Qingdao, China. Both sides also deployed submarines and anti-submarine aircraft at the time. But, these exercises were more focused on rescuing a wrecked submarine and freeing a hijacked ship.

Russia sent several destroyers, frigates, and other significant warships to participate in the 2019 military exercises near Qingdao. 

The two navies have also held military exercises in the Baltic Sea, which is considered the doorstep of NATO. The Mediterranean was a powerful platform for the naval rivalry between the two camps during the Cold War era. The Russian and Chinese navies held military exercises in the Mediterranean a few years ago. The two navies have also held military exercises in the waters of the South China Sea, but away from disputed areas.