This week set off the second phase of Joint Sea-2015, a massive naval drill between the Russian Navy and Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). This is the second major naval drill to take place this year between the two navies and the sixth joint naval drill since 2005. Taking place off the coast of Russia and in the Sea of Japan, it is aimed at improving readiness, training, and interoperability while expanding capabilities in anti-submarine warfare and amphibious landings. So far, this represents the largest joint exercise to take place between the Russian Navy and PLAN and if anything, shows the increasing capability of the PLAN.

Largest-Yet Russia-China Naval Drills Taking Place
Source: Pixabay

Joint Sea-2015 Phase II

Joint Sea-2015 Phase II is a nine-day drill being held from August 20th to the 28th. It is taking place in the Peter the Great Gulf, waters off the Cape Clerk, and off the coast of Primorsky Krai in the Sea of Japan. The administrative center of Primorsky is Vladivostok which is also the home port of the Russian Pacific Fleet, Russia’s second-biggest fleet. Among planned exercises for this drill which includes over 20 warships are anti-submarine operations and a joint landing drill at a Russian Pacific Fleet range outside of Cape Klerk.

Vice Admiral Alexander Fedotenkov, deputy commander of the Russian Navy said the “scope of the exercise is unprecedented”. Fedotenkov along with Rear Admiral Wang Hai, Deputy Commander of the PLAN are coordinating the current drills. According to a press release from the Russian Eastern Military District, “The exercises will culminate in a joint seaborne and airborne forces landing operation at the Klerk training range in Southern Primorsky. It will be the first joint landing operation of Russian and Chinese marines on Russia’s territory.”

Seven PLAN warships left from Qingdao, headquarters of the North Sea Fleet of the PLAN Saturday August 15th for Vladivostok, Russia. The PLAN ships taking part in the exercise include the destroyers Shenyang and Taizhou, the frigates Linyi and Henyang as well as two landing ships and one supply ship. Additionally, six helicopters, five aircraft, 21 pieces of amphibious equipment, and 200 members of the People’s Liberation Army Marine Corps (PLAMC) are also taking part. The PLAN frigates are some of China’s newest while Shenyang is optimized for air-defense and Taizhou for anti-surface duties. The Russian fleet includes 16 warships, two submarines, 12 aircraft, nine amphibious vehicles, and 200 marines.

Developing capabilities in antisubmarine warfare (ASW) is something the PLAN needs to improve on and in the past has admitted to as much. Russia on the other hand has a long history with ASW and the fact that two Russian submarines are taking part leads one to believe that it will be PLAN warships engaging in ASW operations. The amphibious drills will also benefit both countries in terms of improving interoperability. Increasingly China is carrying out amphibious drills while expanding its fleet of dedicated landing ships. That somewhat is tied to the nature of the South China Sea dispute where rapid landings will be needed in case of conflict. Also, if the situation with Taiwan suddenly turns for the worst, PLAMC will be among the first involved.

In a report from the Chinese state-controlled Xinhua news service, Yang Yujun, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Defense said that the drills are not targeted at any third party. In all honesty it seems to be a standard naval exercise. While the size of the drill is large, one must remember that Russia and China both have sizeable forces though are somewhat limited in terms of countries they can host exercises of such a scale with. This is primarily due to the current political climate where both countries are increasingly finding themselves somewhat alone.

Past Joint Exercises

This drill is the second to be held between both countries this year and the sixth since 2005. In November 2014 when Joint Sea 2015 was announced, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu alluded to the role the U.S. has played in creating the need for such drills. He said concerning a meeting with Chinese military officials, “We believe that the main goal of pooling our effort [China and Russia] is to shape a collective regional security system.” He added, “We also expressed concern over U.S. attempts to strengthen its military and political clout in the [Asia-Pacific Region].”

Earlier in May, China and Russia conducted the first phase of Joint Sea-2015 in a ten day exercise in the eastern Mediterranean. The Russian guided missile cruiser, Moskva, commanded the nine warships in the exercise that included two PLAN frigates that had been engaged in counterpiracy duty in the Gulf of Aden while. Among the drills conducted were at-sea replenishment and live-fire exercises. Joint Sea-2015 was a first for China in two ways; it was the first major naval exercise so far from home waters and it was the first time a tactical exercise was conducted with Russia in Europe.

Importance of the Russia-China Naval Drills

This exercise comes as China and Russia are under fire for actions in the South China Sea and Eastern Ukraine respectively. Questions have been raised about the location of the drills the Sea of Japan as both China and Russia are engaged in territorial disputes with Japan. Russia is currently disputing the Kuril Islands while China is disputing the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in China). The latter dispute is of more immediate concern and has escalated in recent years with Chinese warships locking weapon-targeting radar on Japanese warships and increasing intrusions by Chinese ships and aircraft into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkakus. Holding the naval exercises in the Sea of Japan can be construed as a way of China sending a message to Japan over the dispute.

Regardless, this drill further shows that the PLAN is seeking to expand its capabilities while acting as a tangible sign of increasing collaboration between Russia and China. Since 2012, both countries have established a regular exercise schedule with operations primarily taking place in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea. Each drill though grows larger and bolder and shows that the confidence of the PLAN is growing. Ironically, while these exercises are meant to increase the capabilities of the Russian Navy and PLAN, they also provide a valuable opportunity for other powers to gain intelligence on their capabilities.