Last week we have seen two strange Incidents, USA’s two guided-missile destroyers were rammed from the side. On august 21st the USS John S. McCain was hit by an oil tanker in the Straits of Malacca, near Singapore. In another incident the USS Fitzgerald was rammed by a container ship in waters near Japan on June 21. A total of 17 sailors died in both the accidents. US Navy has fired the commander of the US Seventh Fleet as a result of these and two earlier mishaps.

Though the actual reasons of these accidents are yet to be found, but suspicions were raised in the case of the USS Fitzgerald, on the basis of indications the freighter that hit the warship was being guided by its electronic autopilot at the time. An interim Navy report offered no explanation for the cause of the accident. The report said Fitzgerald was operating as a “darkened ship” with running lights on but with minimal interior lighting. It noted that the “moon was relatively bright” with “unrestricted visibility.”

The fact that both onboard radar and watch officers failed to see the freighter in time to avert the collision has raised the possibility of electronic interference. One theory is that the freighter’s autopilot was hacked and a collision course set.

Similarly, in the case of the USS McCain, the ship was rammed by an oil tanker despite use by the crew of several types of radar and round-the-clock watch officers on the bridge.

These Accidents have raised the specter that China was behind the accidents, using electronic means to disrupt or fool radar or navigation systems into creating deliberate collisions. China’s military has developed advanced electronic warfare capabilities capable of disabling ships, aircraft and missiles and there are signs the People’s Liberation Army is preparing to use exotic electronic attacks in a future conflict with the United States.

China has developed some of the world’s most advanced military electronic warfare weapons, including jammers, disruptors and cyber tools that can cause electronics to malfunction mysteriously, or to operate in ways that can cause them to self-destruct.

On July 30 this year, the Chinese Army showed off some of its new electronic warfare gear at an annual military parade in Inner Mongolia. Among the hundreds of armaments on display at the event was equipment used to disrupt enemy radar and communications in air defense and ground combat.

Among the systems shown were two electronic warfare reconnaissance vehicles, Y-8 electronic jamming aircraft, and drones capable of paralyzing and suppressing command and control communications.

In late 2015, Chinese Army upgraded its electronic warfare troops and cyber warfare force into a new military service called the Strategic Support Force.In a Defence report published in 2012, Chinese Army’s development of the “Wolf Group at Sea” was covered. It was described as a distributed electronic warfare system that will be used to attack battle groups at sea.

In 2011 an exclusive report by a research Institute at China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp., one of Beijing’s main arms manufacturers, outlines an “anti-Aegis defense system” for use against American Aegis battle management-equipped warships. Most of the US Navy’s missile and missile defense ships, including both the McCain and Fitzgerald, are Aegis warships. Japan and South Korea also operate Aegis warships.

Strategically, China – in recent decades – has been seeking hegemony over all waters close to its coasts. In doing so it wants to drive the US Navy out of Asia, claiming that the South China Sea, East China Sea and other waters in the region are Beijing’s sovereign maritime territory.

On the warship collisions, Navy officials have voiced doubts that the two destroyers’ electronics were compromised by hackers but have not ruled out such interference. Investigators’ primary theory about the cause is that a mechanical failure or crew error is to blame.

Further Reasons of suspicions on China

There are couple of other reasons which point the figure at China.

In case of USS McCain is the fact that, days before the incident, the destroyer took part in a freedom of navigation operation by sailing within 12 miles of the disputed Mischief Reef, in the nearby Spratlys Islands, in a bid to challenge China’s claims to the reef, one of three increasingly militarized islands close to the Philippines. China protested the warship passage.

After the McCain collision, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, echoing earlier state-run media comments, criticized the US for hazardous seamanship.

“Many people are very concerned about the harm posed by the frequent activities of the US forces in the relevant waters to the freedom and security of navigation,” she said. “We hope that the United States can take this issue seriously and properly handle it.”

Navy investigators’ suspicions of Chinese electronic interference in the McCain collision are also being fueled by the proximity of a Chinese vessel shortly before the incident occurred. Commercial maritime tracking data used to monitor international ship movements revealed that the Chinese vessel was shadowing the freighter that rammed the McCain and veered away shortly before it took place.


Manish Sharma

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