China flexing military muscle in Exclusive Economic Zone in South China Sea
Just as the new administration of George W. Bush was tested by the Chinese government in April 2001 after a U.S. Navy EP-3A Aries intelligence collection aircraft was forced to land on Hainan island after it collided with a Chinese naval J-811M fighter aircraft within the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone claimed by China in the South China Sea, the Barack Obama administration is facing a mini-crisis after a March 8 incident in which five Chinese vessels shadowed and moved in on the USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS-23), a submarine-hunting Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS) ship operated for the U.S. Navy by the Military Sealift Command under contract.
The Chinese ships included a naval intelligence collection vessel, a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries patrol craft, a Chinese oceanographic survey vessel, and two Chinese trawlers. Chinese maritime patrol aircraft also buzzed the Impeccable. Impeccable crewmen sprayed one of the Chinese vessels with fire hoses when it got too near to the submarine tracking ship and tried to snag its towed cable which is connected to a series of hydrophones that detect the acoustic signatures of submarines in the area.
On March 4 and 5, another SURTASS ship, the USNS Victorious (T-AGOS-19), was harassed by a Chinese patrol craft and aircraft while in the Yellow Sea, 125 miles off China's coast but in the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone claimed by China.
The acoustic intelligence data collected by the Impeccable and Victorious are relayed to the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS) Operations Support Detachment in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The United States filed protests with the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing and the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC.