The Chinese-Russian surface action group spotted Sept. 19, 2022, by the US Coast Guard cutter Kimball north of Alaska’s Rat Islands in the Bering Sea included a Chinese guided-missile cruiser and an escort frigate; a Chinese oiler; a Russian guided-missile destroyer; and three Russian frigates. Coffee or Die Magazine composite.
The combined Chinese-Russian surface action group intercepted by US forces earlier in September in the Bering Sea was far more powerful than initially reported.
A list of the warships spotted Sept. 19 by the US Coast Guard cutter Kimball and an HC-130H Hercules crew from Air Station Kodiak north of Alaska’s Rat Islands included a Chinese guided-missile cruiser and an escort frigate; a Chinese oiler; a Russian guided-missile destroyer; and three Russian frigates.
Spotted sailing roughly 75 nautical miles north of the uninhabited Kiska Island, the flotilla’s flagship appears to have been a Renhai-class Type 055 stealth ship, which China classifies as a large destroyer and the US terms a cruiser because it’s intended to serve as an anti-ballistic missile screen for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) aircraft carriers.
US Coast Guard officials said its pennant number was 101, which would correspond with the Nanchang, the first of its class of high-tech vessels.
A Chinese Jiangkai II-class frigate, the Yiyang, pulls into Florida’s Naval Station Mayport on Nov. 3, 2015. US Navy photo by Lt. Stephanie Turo.
Behind the cruiser steamed a PLAN Type 054A Jiangkai II-class frigate, the Yancheng, and a Fuchi-class Type 903 Chinese oiler. According to the US Coast Guard, the pennant number on the replenishment vessel was 309, which isn’t a known hull designation for that class of ships.
The lead Russian warship appeared to be the Udaloy II-class destroyer, Marshal Shaposhnikov, which exited a refit in early 2021 and is assigned to Moscow’s Pacific Fleet.
It was escorted by three Steregushchiy II-class Project 20380 guided-missile corvettes, which NATO designates as frigates: Sovershennyy, Gromkiy, and Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov.
The combined surface action group pierced the US Exclusive Economic Zone and was met by the Legend-class Kimball.
“The only communications between the Coast Guard cutter Kimball and the foreign military vessels in this SAG were related to the safe maneuvering of these vessels,” Public Affairs Specialist Alexandria S. Preston, a US Coast Guard spokesperson, said in an email to Coffee or Die Magazine.
A Chinese Fuchi-class oiler, Qiandaohu, arrives at Florida’s Naval Station Mayport on Nov. 3, 2015. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mark Andrew Hays.
Homeported in Hawaii, Kimball was on a patrol in Alaskan waters when it interdicted the flotilla.
Citing “operational security concerns,” officials declined to comment on how they knew where and when the Chinese-Russian flotilla would arrive near the Rat Islands, but US forces often monitor global naval movements by satellite, submarine, and long-range reconnaissance aircraft, among other means.
Chinese state media reported that the surface action group was the second joint naval patrol in the Pacific Ocean with Russia. It was designed to enhance “military cooperation” through “joint tactical maneuvering, communications between the ships in the group, and exercises involving live-fire artillery shooting and flights of vessel-based helicopters.”
"Its core purpose is to improve the ability of both Russia and China to deal with threats to maritime security and jointly maintain regional peace and stability," a military expert, his name withheld, told the Chinese press.
He downplayed concerns about Chinese encroachment on US waters, the second in the past year, as mere “speculation” centered around hyping Beijing’s military threat instead of “the peaceful use of the Arctic.”
Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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