Built to hunt Russian submarines, Canadian frigate HMCS Calgary is instead chasing Japanese and US subs in western Pacific drills as Canada joins other maritime nations in seeking to contain Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
“The expectation is to see one, if not two ships, on a year-round basis doing a variety of things with a variety of partners in the region,” Commander Blair Saltel, the captain of Calgary, said in Yokosuka, Japan.
His ship, docked at the naval base near Tokyo along with Canadian navy supply ship the Asterix, left Canada in July on a mission that has taken it through the East China Sea, to Australia and into the contested South China Sea, where it encountered Chinese warships.
Last week, it joined Japanese and US warships, including the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, for anti-submarine warfare exercises in the western Pacific that were part of the biggest combat readiness exercise yet staged in and around Japan.
“There’s an opportunity for Canada to demonstrate that we have experience working with allies within coalitions,” Saltel said.
Canada’s decision to sent ships to Asian naval exercises comes as other nations, including Britain and France, bolster their presence in a region, fearing China’s growing military power could see put commercial sea lanes under Beijing’s sway.
Britain this year has sent three warships to the Indo-Pacific, including its largest amphibious assault ship, HMS Albion. On its return journey west following a visit to Japan, the 22,000 tonne vessel, with a contingent of 120 marines, sailed close to islands claimed by China in the South China Sea.
Beijing, which says its presence on island bases there is peaceful, said the operation was a “provocation”.
Japan, which operates the second largest navy in Asia, this year sent the Kaga helicopter carrier on a two-month tour through the South China Sea, and into Indian Ocean, where it sailed with the latest British warship to travel to the region, HMS Argyll.
Before returning to Canada, the Calgary this month will sail to Sasebo in western Japan, another key base for both the US and Japanese navies, for more anti-submarine warfare drills.
“It’s a steady progression toward a mutual agreement to make sure we can share information, share logistics and be able to cooperate at a moment’s notice should our navies require,” Saltel said on the Calgary’s bridge as his crew and local Japanese engineers carried out maintenance work.