China Spied On ‘World’s Largest Naval Drills’ – RIMPAC; PLA Navy Spy Ship Comes Uninvited, Yet Again

The United States recently hosted one of the largest naval exercises in the world that saw participation by 26 countries. However, there was also an uninvited guest lurking close to the location of these massive drills – a Chinese spy ship!

According to some defense sources, China’s military sent a spy ship to gather sensitive military information during the mammoth international drills of the US Navy known as Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), The Washington Times reported.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy did not make public the operations of its Auxiliary General Intelligence (AGI) ship. The uninvited Chinese ship was detected near Hawaii during the military maneuvers that concluded earlier this month.

However, the RIMPAC exercise was not affected by the presence of the Chinese vessel.

Over thirty-eight surface ships, four submarines, nine national land forces, over 170 aircraft, and about 25,000 personnel took part in the drills, according to a US 3rd Fleet news release about RIMPAC 2022. The exercises were held in Hawaii, an overseas US territory in the Pacific.

Government and military authorities were reportedly alarmed by the spy ship’s presence during the war games due to escalating tensions in the Indo-Pacific and rising concerns about a conflict between the US and China over Taiwan.

RIMPAC on Twitter: "26 nations. One shared purpose. ? As #CapableAdaptivePartners at the #RIMPAC scale, we commit to work together & to foster & sustain relationships critical to ensuring the safety of
RIMPAC 2022 (via Twitter)

The ship is thought to have obtained crucial information for warfighting. Details on tactics and procedures employed in joint and international naval operations were probably included in the data collected. The ship allegedly amassed significant quantities of electronic signals intelligence and military communications.

Analysts believe this intelligence might give the PLA an advantage in a future military confrontation. There has been no comment from the PLA on the matter so far. Most countries that participated in the exercises have some tensions with China.

While the Chinese misadventure is undoubtedly concerning for the United States and other participants, this is not the first time PLA has pulled off such a move against its rival camp that it has been keenly watching.

Chinese Spy Ships Near RIMPAC: An Age-Old Affair

In 2018, Chinese spy ships or the AGI were found operating off the coast of Hawaii to keep tabs on the US-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. The People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) AGI ship had been operating in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) near Hawaii, as previously reported by USNI.

The uninvited AGI off Hawaii was a Type 815 Dongdiao-class. In 2014, Type 815 shadowed RIMPAC, an embarrassing action at odds with the Chinese Navy given a formal invitation to take part in the multinational exercises, contrary to the scenario today when the US and China are each other’s staunchest enemies.

In 2017, Type 815 detected a THAAD anti-ballistic missile system test in Alaska almost simultaneously with the surveillance of the US-Australian Talisman Sabre naval exercises, which was also seen as a serious attempt at conducting spy operations.

Type 815 spy ship – Wikipedia

The Type 815 class was designed to track and gather missile test debris, both friendly and unfriendly. The ship is equipped with a sizable tracking radar, a tracking camera, a telemetry dish, and cranes for retrieving underwater missile wreckage.

The Type 815 is around the size of a frigate and has a displacement of 6,000 tons. The vessel also has machine guns and light, rapid-fire cannons as their only heavy weapons.

The ships are also equipped with sensors and antennas for gathering radio transmissions, radar signals, and other electromagnetic emissions for subsequent study. These features make them ideal for spying and collecting sensitive military information on their voyage.

According to maritime experts, the Dongdiao-class electronic reconnaissance ships of the Chinese Navy have reportedly snooped near the coasts of other countries for intelligence-gathering and monitoring war games. However, it is not clear whether this vessel was involved in the RIMPAC 2022 spying mission.

Former intelligence chief for the Pacific Fleet and retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell expressed disappointment that the Indo-Pacific Command would not confirm the recent presence of the Chinese AGI.

“The PRC has a 10-year history of dispatching AGIs to collect intelligence on the US Navy and other RIMPAC participants,” he said, using the People’s Republic of China acronym. “Unfortunately, it appears the specter of secrecy that was most prominent during the Obama administration has returned.”

In the tug of war between the United States and China, the latter could have an advantage in knowing the adversary’s warfighting procedures, tactics, and best practices.