JOINT war games will be spied on by a high-tech, 6,000-ton Chinese warship.
It’s snooping on biennial United States-Australia exercises on the Queensland coast – the Talisman Sabre war games – say defence officials.
The Type 815G Dongdiao-class electronic surveillance ship is understood to be north of Papua New Guinea, after making a beeline for Oz ahead of the military exercise.
Lieutenant General Greg Bilton confirmed to reporters at a launch of the joint games in Brisbane: “There is [an AGI ship] north of Australia at the moment.
“We’re tracking it. We don’t know yet what its destination is, but we’re assuming that it will come down to the east coast of Queensland, and we’ll take appropriate measures in regards to that.
“It is international waters – they have the right to sail there.”
The snooping comes several weeks after three Chinese warships unexpectedly docked in Sydney Harbour in a dramatic display of naval power – days after Australian ships were followed in the South China Sea.
It’s a vessel that collects information, so it’s not a great threat, but we’ll take appropriate action.
Lieutenant General Greg Bilton
Lieut Gen Bilton did not say how defence officials would react while the surveillance ship was lurking near the US-Australian operation, but added: “I’m not going to go into operational details, but we’ll just take appropriate actions in regards to that vessel.
“It’s a vessel that collects information, so it’s not a great threat, but we’ll take appropriate action.”
A Defence Department spokesperson told the ABC News they’re “aware that there will likely be interest from other countries in exercise Talisman Sabre.
“Any questions relating to the movement of PLA [the People’s Liberation Army] vessels in international waters should be directed to the Chinese Government.”
WAR GAMES INCLUDE JAPANESE
The Australian broadcaster was told by an anonymous source that the war games involve the Japanese Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade.
This was apparently created in 2018 – mainly in “response to potential Chinese incursion in the Senkaku Islands,” the military official added.
The Japanese brigade’s “capability and interoperability with Australia and the United States will be of interest to Beijing,” the ABC was told.
The presence of Chinese warships spying in Australian waters is becoming increasingly common, according to Ashley Townshend, director of foreign policy and defence at the US Studies Centre in Sydney.
He told news.com.au: “As China’s navy grows more powerful and picks up the pace of operations far away from the mainland, its warships are becoming an everyday sight right across the region.
“Just as US, Australian and Japanese military assets operate in international waters and airspace close to Chinese shores, so too will China be present off our coastline.
“Australia and US defence planners are well aware of this and will have taken steps to make sure that the sensitive aspects of the Talisman Sabre exercises are protected against spying by Chinese surveillance ships.”
The surprise appearance of three Chinese warships in Sydney Harbour in early June was downplayed by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said they were “returning from counter-drug-trafficking operations in the Middle East”.
However a national security expert at the Australian National University, Rory Medcalf, wrote about his doubts on Twitter: “Sydney is hardly a convenient stopover on their way home… this looks like a serious show of presence in the South Pacific.”
What is Exercise Talisman Sabre?
The Talisman Sabre war games are the main Australian and US military bilateral training exercise focused on the planning and conduct of mid-intensity “high end warfighting”, says the Department of Defence in Oz.
“Occurring every two years, Talisman Sabre is a major exercise reflecting the closeness of our alliance and strength of the enduring military relationship”, it adds.
TS19 will involve field training exercises, incorporating force preparation (logistic) activities, amphibious landings, land force manoeuvre, urban operations, air operations, maritime operations and Special Forces activities.
The majority of TS19 exercise activities will take place in the existing ADF Shoalwater Bay Training Area and surrounding State Forests, near Rockhampton in Central Queensland.
Other events will occur around Stanage Bay and the Capricorn Coast, Whitsunday Region (Bowen, Proserpine and surrounding areas), Mackay region (including south of Sarina), Bundaberg and surrounding region, the ADF Townsville Field Training Area and the ADF Evans Head Air Weapons Range.
TS19 will run from late June to early August 2019, including the initial surge of equipment and people and their departure after the exercise.
Exercise activities in Shoalwater Bay Training Area and region starts from early July and peaks during July 11-24 2019.