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As the 1,00,000-tonne US air­craft car­rier USS John C. Sten­nis, which car­ries F-18 fighter jets, joined the naval ships of Ja­pan and In­dia in the seas off the Ja­panese Ok­i­nawan Is­land chain for Ex­er­cise Mal­abar 2016, a PLA Navy (PLAN) spy ship was ob­served mon­i­tor­ing the naval drill. With her ex­ten­sive satellite pro­gramme, China could eas­ily mon­i­tor such move­ments but ap­par­ently China chose to de­ploy the ob­ser­va­tion ship to ob­serve the multi-na­tion ma­noeu­vres more closely and per­haps in­ter­cept com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Sub­ma­rine hunt­ing pa­trol planes were also launched from bases in Ja­pan as part of the ex­er­cise. USS Sten­nis has been fol­lowed by the Chi­nese spy ship dur­ing pa­trolling the South China Sea (SCS) and fol­lowed it to Mal­abar 2016 area.

“There is a Chi­nese ves­sel about seven to 10 miles away,” Cap­tain Gre­gory C. Huff­man, com­man­der of the Sten­nis, told re­porters aboard the car­rier af­ter it re­cov­ered its F-18 jet fight­ers tak­ing part in the ex­er­cise, adding that the Chi­nese ship had fol­lowed the US air­craft car­rier from the SCS. Typ­i­cally fol­low­ing the pol­icy of guile and de­ceit, Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry spokesman Lu Kang said he was un­aware of the sit­u­a­tion. When the PLAN ves­sel got close to Mal­abar 2016, a Ja­panese Mar­itime Self-De­fense Force ( JMSDF) of­fi­cer said that USS Sten­nis would act as a de­coy by sail­ing apart to draw the PLAN ship away. The In­dian con­tin­gent par­tic­i­pat­ing in Mal­abar 2016 com­prises four ships that reached the ex­er­cise area sail­ing through the SCS with stops in the Philip­pines and Viet­nam.

The In­dian Navy Kora class corvette INS Kirch and Shiva­lik class stealth multi-role frigates INS Sahyadri (F49) and INS Sat­pura (F48) tran­sit while con­duct­ing a live-fire sur­face gun ex­er­cise dur­ing Mal­abar 2016

LT GEN­ERAL P.C. KA­TOCH (RETD)

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