A crew member from the US Coast Guard cutter Kimball tracks a foreign vessel in the Bering Sea on Sept. 19, 2022. US Coast Guard photo.
The US Coast Guard cutter Kimball intercepted a Chinese and Russian surface action group operating off Alaska’s Rat Islands last week.
Coast Guard officials told Coffee or Die Magazine the Legend-class Kimball was on patrol Sept. 19 roughly 75 nautical miles north of the uninhabited Kiska Island in the Bering Sea when its crew sighted a Renhai Type 055 stealth ship of the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
Authorities said its pennant was 101, which would mark it as the Nanchang, the first of its class of high-tech vessels. The US designates it as a cruiser because it’s expected to function as the primary escort for Chinese aircraft carriers, but Beijing calls it a large destroyer.
Kimball’s crew later identified two more Chinese vessels, plus four Russian ships, steaming in a single formation as a combined surface action group that pierced the US Exclusive Economic Zone shortly before leaving. One of the Russian vessels was a guided-missile destroyer.
The northern lights dance above the US Coast Guard cutter Kimball off Alaska in September of 2022. US Coast Guard photo.
“While the formation has operated in accordance with international rules and norms, we will meet presence-with-presence to ensure there are no disruptions to US interests in the maritime environment around Alaska,” said Rear Adm. Nathan Moore, the commander of the 17th Coast Guard District, in a prepared statement emailed to Coffee of Die.
The Coast Guard calls that force-on-force presence between strategic competitors “Operation Frontier Sentinel,” and the arrival of the Chinese-Russian surface action group spurred watchstanders in Juneau to scramble an HC-130H Hercules crew from Air Station Kodiak to provide aerial reconnaissance.
It’s legal for foreign warships to navigate through the US Exclusive Economic Zone, and this was not the first time it’d happened off Alaska.
Roughly a year ago, US Coast Guard cutters on patrol in the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean intercepted Chinese warships, including a surface action group, roughly 50 nautical miles off the Aleutian Islands.
This is a breaking story and Coffee or Die Magazine will continue to add to it.
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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