For the second time in two years, a PLAN task force of more than ten ships passed through the Miyako Strait en route to the Pacific. On June 8-9 eleven PLAN ships passed in international waters between the Japanese islands of Miyakojima and Okinawa. The ships passed through the strait again Thursday, on their way back to China. According to the Washington Post:

Japan’s Defense Ministry said Thursday 11 Chinese warships were spotted in international waters off the country’s southern island of Okinawa.

No territorial violations were claimed by Japan, but the movements are sensitive because Japan and China have a dispute over small islands in the East China Sea.

The ministry on Thursday said the Chinese warships were monitored passing from the Pacific Ocean into the East China Sea.

Ministry spokesman Shuichi Fukuya said they were believed to be returning from target practice and refueling exercises in waters about 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) south of Okinawa.

He said the Japanese military saw the Chinese warships heading out to the area June 8-9. (Link)

A smaller force of one PLAN destroyer and one frigate made a similar trip in July 2010.

Here’s a map of the strait.

[cetsEmbedGmap src=http://maps.google.com/maps?q=miyakojima&hl=en&ll=25.19003,126.298828&spn=3.53875,5.894165&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=49.176833,94.306641&t=h&z=8 width=575 height=350 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

The Japanese Ministry of Defense has published photos of the PLAN ships. First up are three Sovremenny-class guided missile destroyers. Hull #136 is Hangzhou, #137 is Fuzhou, both Project 956 boats purchased from Russia. Hull #138 is an improved Project 956EM boat, Taizhou. Read more about them here.

Next up is one Jiangkai-2 class frigate. Also known as the Type 05A 045A destroyers frigates. Wikipedia says this ship (548) is the Yiyang. Read more about the Jiangkai-2 class here.

Two Jianwei-1 class / Type 053HG class frigates. These are (541) Huaibei and (542) Tongling. More about the Jianwei-1 class here.

One Jianwei-2 / Type 053H3 class frigate. This is (524) Sanming. Read more here.

One Fuqing-class fleet oiler. Hull (882) is Poyanghu. Interestingly, Sinodefence says this ship is assigned to the Northern Fleet. More on the Fuqing-class here.

One Dajiang-class / Type 925 ASR (Auxiliary Submarine Rescue vessel) Chongmingdao. These ships are relatively old, having originally been built to support China’s first ICBM program. More here.

One Tuzhong-class Fleet Tug, Dongtuo. More here.

One Dongdiao-class ELINT vessel. More here.

The PLAN fleet underway:

According to some reports, the fleet was supposed to sortie in April, but that was delayed because of the Japan earthquake and tsunami of March 11th. This makes sense, because the last sortie was in April 2010, and the Japanese noted their displeasure at the event. Giving Japan some breathing room after the March disasters demonstrates the Chinese are at least trying to demonstrate some sensitivity.

The PLAN’s annual sortie seems to indicate that this is the new normal, and that the rest of the world should expect China to regularly transit the Miyako Strait. The presence of a submarine rescue vessel is interesting, and hints at the dual nature of the exercise. Chinese submarines probably transit the Miyako Strait at least if not even more often, and combining a right-of-passage exercise with a submarine rescue exercise just makes sense. Especially when this trip is only undertaken once a year.

The fleet was shadowed by three Japanese destroyers. The MSDF was caught relatively flat-footed by the April 2010 sortie, and the presence of an Aegis destroyer in the shadow flotilla suggests the MSDF was waiting for a similar transit this year and intended to put its best foot forward. Two of the ships, Kurama and Takanami, are currently operating at a high tempo, having been part of the post-Tohoku relief operation.

The Kongo-class destroyer Chokai. Read more here. Chokai is a designated Aegis BMD vessel.

JDS Chokai.

Kurama, a Shirane-class helicopter destroyer, the second generation of Japanese helicopter destroyers. (Kurama was the ship that collided with a South Korean freighter in 2009 and took a bad hit in the nose.) Read more about it here.

JDS Kurama.

Finally, the destroyer Takanami, lead ship of a class of the same name. Read more about them here.

JDS Takanami. Creative Commons photo, Flickr user Jimmyweee.

[Special thanks and H/T to @JS_Susumu for all his translation help]

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch