USNS Impeccable

Officials: US ship in China spat was hunting subs

The U.S. Navy ship that got into a scrape with five Chinese vessels last weekend in the South China Sea was looking for threats such as submarines — presumably Chinese — in waters that China claims as its own, defense officials acknowledged Tuesday.

The United States maintains that the unarmed USNS Impeccable was operating legally in international waters when it was surrounded and harassed by the Chinese.

Actually a few paragraphs later the story says that the unnamed defense officials said it’s “designed and equipped for sub-hunting work” but “would not be specific about the Impeccable’s mission.” So that’s not quite acknowledging that it was “hunting subs.” But still.


  1. After the carriers, these puppies are on top of the list to kill. That is if you wanted to blind the US.

  2. The key issue for me was whether we were in international waters, or waters internationally recognised as Chinese. If it was the latter………..I can see where we’d want to engage in some judicious capability and “intent” testing (theirs not ours), but I can’t really fault the Chinese for their reaction either. If it was the former…………they’e got nothing coming, and it looks like they were performing the capability and intent testing on us.

    Every time I see a story like this I have falsh backs to the Clinonistas gutting the military during the 90s, under the guise of a peace dividend; because their was no peer competiro on the horizen. Of course when your horizen is only 5 days in front of you……………….you get surprised quite often. 🙁

  3. Impeccable and her sisters are SURTASS (SURveillance Towed Array Sensor System) boats. They tow big sonar arrays behind them looking for subs. They supplement the SOSUS detection network. With their blazing 12 knot top speed, they’ll not last long if and when someone wants them sunk.

  4. They were not within Chinese territorial waters (12 mile limit), but were within the ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ (EEZ).

    Now, what that means apparently depends on what sections of international maritime law you want to look at. Traditionally, waters outside of territorial waters are free for transit and non-economic use (ie, no fishing, drilling, mining, etc) by all.

    Now, the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST), which China is a signatory to, but the US is not, also apparently can be read multiple ways, depending on which of the 320 sections and multiple annexes you’re looking at, and how you choose to interpret it. Some parts can be read to give nations a good bit of power in restricting what goes on in their EEZs.

    Obviously, the US view favors free navigation and use, whilst the Chinese favors restrictions.

    My guess is that 1) China is testing the new administration, just like they did 8 years ago; and 2) they either had a sub (or subs) in the area, or will soon, that they don’t want us listening to.

  5. As I lay dying Faulkner….I cannot help but think, tts a backdoor way to claiming the territory. If the Chinese can bully the US out of the area, then they win the prize. As long as the US ignores the claim and protects freedom of navigation the legal contest continues over who “owns” the islands.

  6. China claims most of the SCS. They consider the Spratleys to be theirs and consider them to be Islands.

    The US does not recognize any of the seven nation’s disputed claims on the Spratleys because, we consider them to be Reefs. They are underwater at high tide. Installations and Outposts are usually built on stilts there…

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