A large naval task force of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reportedly entered the West Pacific on Monday in a likely move to join forces with the aircraft carrier Shandong in the region and form what observers said on Tuesday could be an unprecedentedly large carrier group.
Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force spotted a total of eight PLA Navy warships in two flotillas that sailed from the East China Sea through the Miyako Strait into the West Pacific on Monday, Japan’s Ministry of Defense Joint Staff said in a press release on the day.
The PLA naval task force consisted of two Type 052D destroyers, two Type 054A frigates and a Sovremenyy-class destroyer in a first flotilla, and a Type 052C destroyer, another Type 052D destroyer and another Sovremenyy-class destroyer in a second flotilla, according to the Japanese information.
The eight Chinese vessels’ voyage from the East China Sea into the West Pacific coincided with the Shandong aircraft carrier group’s entry to the same region on the same day from the South China Sea.
According to the defense authority on the island of Taiwan, the PLA Navy Shandong aircraft carrier group on Monday morning sailed in waters 60 nautical miles southeast of Cape Eluanbi, the southernmost point of Taiwan, east toward the West Pacific for an exercise.
When the aircraft carrier Shandong sailed past Taiwan, the defense authority on the island already identified it as a carrier group, meaning that there must have been a number of other types of vessels accompanying it, a Beijing-based military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Tuesday.
The defense authority on Taiwan later said on Tuesday in a press release that it detected 20 PLA warships around the island of Taiwan from Monday morning to Tuesday morning in addition to 22 PLA aircraft.
Although the exact number and types of ships involved in the Shandong carrier group have not been revealed yet, a typical PLA Navy aircraft carrier group usually includes the Type 055 large destroyer, the Type 052D destroyer, the Type 054A frigate, the Type 901 comprehensive replenishment ship and the Type 09III nuclear-powered attack submarine, observers said.
If the eight vessels from the East China Sea join forces with the carrier group in the West Pacific, they could form an unprecedently large carrier group consisting of more than a dozen warships, the expert said.
It is also possible that the warships do not join the carrier group, but still operate in a coordinated manner as a part of the Shandong’s far sea exercise, the expert said.
Either situation would mean that the aircraft carrier Shandong is practicing new skills and new tactics in order to enhance its combat capabilities, analysts said.