Image: navy.gov.au

Image rights: navy.gov.au

Very much under the radar comes the news that the Adelaide-class guided-missile frigate HMAS Sydney (FFG 03) is about to join the US Seventh Fleet, where it will be  ”embedded” with a US carrier strike group operating out of Yokosuka. Launched in 1980, the warship is only one of four guided-missile frigates operated by the RAN, and it was a mainstay in supporting US operations around Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s role specialization is Undersea Warfare and its commander Karl Brinckmann served as Deputy Director Underwater Warfare in Navy Strategic Command.

While the Chinese Xinhua news service has connected the deployment to tensions on the Korean peninsula, other analysts have suggested that the more important symbolism may relate to the Japan-Australia strategic partnership. Peter Jennings, the head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), is quoted as saying that the frigate operating from Japan indicates that ”we [Australia] are getting close to the Japanese”. Furthermore, Benjamin Schreer, also at ASPI, provides the following insight while commenting on Australia’s new defense white paper:

Integrating the warship into the George Washington Carrier Strike Group (CSG)—as opposed to usual short-term exercises—is an important development. Again, Australia is the only Asia-Pacific ally to do so. Moreover, the ship will take part in real-world operations in the CSG’s ‘Area of Operations’, which includes the Senkaku Islands where tensions between Japan and China are still running high. By doing so, not only does Australia make an active contribution to US military operations in Northeast Asia, it also signals to China (and Japan) on which side it’s on.

Jennings notes more forthrightly that the “[HMAS Sydney] would have a role to play in a conflict if that [Senkaku conflict] happened.”  While unsurprisingly concerned about this move and others, the World Socialist Web Site provides some useful background on increasing military contacts between the US, Japan, and Australia, and Australian presence north of the South China Sea. In addition to the involvement of Australian troops in the Foal Eagle exercises between the US and the ROK earlier this year, Mark Church and James Cogan (WSWS) also note that:

Earlier in February, the Royal Australian Air Force participated in the Cope North 2013 training exercises in Guam. The sizable Australian contingent included seven F/A-18A fighter jets, an E-7A Wedgetail early-warning aircraft, refuelling and transport aircraft and 230 support personnel…Cope North began in 1978 as a joint US-Japanese operation designed to improve air force co-ordination. It is now developing as a key training exercise for the air forces of the countries that comprise the de facto US coalition against China. Australia participated for the first time in 2012 and South Korea took part with a limited presence this year. US Pacific Air Force commander, General Herbert Carlisle, has indicated that New Zealand and the Philippines will most likely participate in the future…The exercises represented a further development in the military relations between Australia and Japan.

Update: Time’s Kirk Spitzer provides more detail on the deployment:

The Sydney’s responsibilities will include providing air defense for the GW and its fleet of escort vessels. It is only the second time in recent memory that an allied warship has joined a carrier group here for purposes other than scheduled exercises…The GW group includes two Aegis-equipped cruisers and seven destroyers, along with the Sydney. Carrier groups typically go to sea with at least one submarine lurking nearby. The Sydney is a 1980s-vintage frigate that was recently upgraded with Standard and Evolved Sea Sparrow anti-aircraft missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and carries two anti-submarine helicopters. Nominally, the ship will follow the same rules of engagement as other vessels in the task force, though the Aussies would not necessarily be dragged into each and every fight if shooting occurred.

 

 

 

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Corey Wallace joined Japan Security Watch in 2011. He writes on Japan security-related topics, focusing on issues and stories that may not find their way into the English language media. He also hosts the blog Sigma1 where he writes on Japanese domestic politics and broader issues in international relations. Prior to taking up a PhD Corey was a participant on the JET program (2004-2007) and on returning to New Zealand he worked at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology from 2007-2010 as a policy adviser. Corey lectures two courses at the University of Auckland. One is on the international relations of the Asia-Pacific, which contains a significant focus on East Asia security issues. The other is a course on China's international relations. His primary academic interests before his current Japan focus were science and technology politics/policy, issues of ethnic identity, and Chinese modern history and politics. He carries over his interest in issues of identity and history into his PhD where he is looking at generationally situated concepts of national identity and their impact on foreign policy ideas in Japan.
Corey Wallace has 51 post(s) on Japan Security Watch