Chinese Warship Blatantly Snoops On ‘Largest-Ever’ Talisman Sabre Military Drills Involving US & Australia

A Chinese navy surveillance ship has been seen off the eastern coast of Australia, observing the multi-nation Talisman Sabre exercise. It is expected to move further down south, tailing the naval maneuvers. 

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While this is not the first time Chinese vessels have been spotted spying on allied ships near Australian seas, top Australian military officials also maintain they are not particularly worried about the ship and revealed to have officially made contact with it. 

People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) surveillance ships have been monitoring Talisman Sabre exercises since 2017, with the ships staying well outside the 12 nautical miles territorial sea limit and the exercise boundaries while doing so. 

The Australian Ministry of Defense calls the Talisman Sabre the largest bilateral combined training activity between the Australian Defense Force and the United States military, reflecting the closeness of the Washington-Canberra alliance. This is the tenth installment of the exercise. 

Talisman Sabre 2023

The exercise tests and practices the logistics components of military operations, which have long been observed to be particularly critical and vulnerable in a war with China in the western Pacific. 

Transportation Corps Soldiers at work overseas downloading and moving equipment recently for Talisman Sabre 2023 in Darwin, Australia. Source: Twitter/US Army Gregg-Adams.

Talisman Sabre 2023 is being conducted across northern Australia from July 22 to August 4, with more than 30,000 military personnel from 13 nations directly participating.

Australia, Canada, Fiji, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Tonga, the United Kingdom, and the United States are full participants, with the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand attending as observers.

A complete list of participating ships has yet to be officially released for Talisman Sabre. However, the United States sent the America Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), which consists of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) and landing platform docks USS New Orleans (LPD-18) and USS Green Bay (LPD-20) and the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

Japan is despatching destroyer helicopter carrier JS Izumo (DDH-183) and landing ship tank JS Shimokita (LST-4002) as part of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) Indo-Pacific Deployment 2023 (IPD23) mission.

Royal Australian Navy (RAN) amphibious assault ship HMAS Adelaide (L01) is participating in the exercise, although Australia has yet to release any information on other RAN ships participating. Adelaide recently embarked British Royal Marine Commandos on it for the exercise, according to a report in USNI News

Perceptions Towards The Exercise & China

A press release from the Australian MoD quoted the US Major General Jered P. Helwig, Commanding General, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, saying that the Talisman Sabre 2023 “demonstrates the joint force’s ability to integrate with allies and partners and rapidly deploy large-scale logistics at a critical time in the Indo-Pacific.”

“The Australian and US alliance is critical to enhancing regional security and stability. The complexity in scope and operation of this exercise across all of our warfighting functions demonstrates the power of the alliance and like-minded partnerships in the region,” Helwig was quoted further in the statement. 

The information about the Chinese ship was given out by Lt Gen Greg Bilton, the Chief of Joint Operations of the Australian Defense Force (ADF), during a press conference before the exercise. According to a transcript of the media interaction on the Australian Ministry of Defense website, Bilton responded negatively when asked if Chinese spy ships would be a “danger” and if they “worried” him. 

“They’ve come before and… there’s one off the east coast of Australia at the moment. We reached out on Thursday and hailed that vessel in the Coral Sea. It’ll move down, I expect, and join the exercise – or be in the location of the exercise again. They’ve done this for several years; we’re well prepared for it,” Bilton said. He also described the response and interaction from the ship’s crew as “courteous” and “in accordance with the normal norms at sea.” 

But that the target was China was reflected directly in US Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro’s statement. Responding to a question about what message the exercise held for China, Del Toro said, “The most important that Beijing can take is that (the US and its allies) are extremely tied by the core values that exist among our many nations together.” 

“We are prepared to operate together in defense of our national security interests and in defense of the core values that we all share,” he added.