China’s Navy Holding ‘Confrontation Drills’ at Disputed Paracel and Spratly Islands
A three-ship squadron of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) left port Feb. 10 for what PLAN described as a series of "confrontation drills" at the militarized Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea.
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The Type 052D guided missile destroyer CNS Changsha (173) and the Type 052C guided missile destroyer CNS Haikou (171) left their home port at Sanya on Hainan Island along with the Luomahu (964), a Type 903 replenishment ship, for the joint exercise with the PLAN Naval Air Force and units of the People's Liberation Army Ground Force occupying these islands.
Both destroyers belong to the South Sea Fleet responsible for the defense of the South China Sea.
PLAN said three helicopters are aboard both destroyers, as are dozens of men from the PLAN Marine Corps. The "confrontation drills" will include joint air defense operations; maritime defense operations; naval escort; anti-terrorism and anti-piracy operations in the South China Sea, the eastern Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific Ocean.
The PLAN Naval Air Force involved in the drills will come from the South Sea Fleet while other warships will come from the East Sea Fleet and the North Sea Fleet.
PLAN said this far-sea training is a routine arrangement in accordance with its annual plan. The drills are in line with international laws and conventions, said Rear Admiral Yu Manjiang, commanding officer of the task force and deputy commander of the South Sea Fleet.
PLAN has deployed four of the five operational Type 052D guided missile destroyers -- its most modern -- to the South Sea Fleet.
Chinese military analysts said the deployment of the Type 052D (NATO code name: Luyang III-class) to the South Sea Fleet indicates the strategic priority of PLAN has shifted to the southern end of the "First Island Chain," which they identified as a "weak spot" the U.S.-Japan military alliance has been "working hard" to exploit.
They also claim the Type 052D destroyers and the older and less capable Type 052C destroyer (of which only six were built) together form a "stepped difference in combat force."