US Navy Destroyers Monitor Russian, Chinese Flotilla Off Alaska

A combined Russian and Chinese flotilla of 11 ships approached the coast of Alaska earlier this week in an operation that has been called “unprecedented.” The ships came close to the Aleutian Islands but never entered U.S. territorial waters.

The U.S. Navy responded to the patrol by dispatching four destroyers along with P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft. The destroyers tracked the movements of the flotilla, which was led by the Russian guided-missile cruiser Varyag.

A spokesman for U.S. Northern Command told The Wall Street Journal that the patrol was not considered a threat. However, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, called the operation “unprecedented” and said it “underscores the need for the continued buildup of not only forces in Alaska, but the infrastructure that can handle them.”

The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington said the patrol was not aimed at sending a message to the U.S.

“According to the annual cooperation plan between the Chinese and Russian militaries, naval vessels of the two countries have recently conducted joint maritime patrols in relevant waters in the western and northern Pacific Ocean,” China Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu told The Journal. “This action is not targeted at any third party and has nothing to do with the current international and regional situation.”

The September 2022 patrol of seven Russian and Chinese warships near the Aleutian Islands was met with a much smaller response, with only a Coast Guard vessel dispatched to track the flotilla. Sullivan has called for an increase in assets and infrastructure to defend Alaska and the nation.

“Alaska, which has more total shoreline than any other state, does not have a Navy or Marine Corps base,” Sullivan told KTUU-TV. “I think it just underscores the need for the continued buildup of not only forces in Alaska, but the infrastructure that can handle them.”

The increased Russian and Chinese naval activity near Alaska is a sign of the growing strategic importance of the region. Alaska is home to a number of important military assets, including the Thule Air Force Base and the NORAD command center. The region is also a major shipping route for oil and gas exports from Russia.

The recent patrols suggest that Russia and China are seeking to assert their presence in the Arctic and North Pacific. This is a trend that is likely to continue in the years to come.