Canadian warship joins multinational exercise off Australia

HMCS Calgary arrives in Australia for the start of Exercise Talisman Sabre in July 2021. (Cpl. Lynette Ai Dang and Sailor First Class Jeremy Tapp/Canadian Armed Forces)

A Canadian warship has arrived off the coast of Australia to conduct war games with the host nation, alongside forces from the United States and other Pacific Rim countries.

HMCS Calgary is joining the biennial Exercise Talisman Sabre, which brings more than 17,000 military personnel from several partner countries to the Coral Sea off Australia's northeast coast.

The ship’s arrival was no doubt overshadowed by the appearance of two uninvited – though not wholly unexpected – guests in the region.

Australia's defence minister confirmed in a news conference Saturday that a second Chinese surveillance vessel had arrived off the Australian coast, presumably to monitor the large-scale exercise.

"We do now have a second vessel and obviously we expect that the Chinese would conduct themselves within the rules of international law," said Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton.

"It’s also a reminder to the reality now in the Indo-Pacific that the Chinese have invested into all of their assets," Dutton added. "They have a production line of submarines and frigates like we’ve not seen since world-war time and we need to be very conscious of that."

The defence minister said the Australians anticipated that the Chinese navy would deploy one intelligence-gathering ship to the exercise this year, as it had in 2017 and 2019.

"We expected the deployment of the vessel," Dutton told reporters. "We’re surprised that there are two vessels but obviously the Chinese have made a decision to have a greater presence."

Talisman Sabre is scheduled to run until mid-August but the main thrust of the exercise is underway until July 31.

Australian and U.S. forces account for the bulk of the personnel attending the land, air and sea exercises, with forces from Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the United Kingdom also in attendance.

Delegations from France, Germany, India and Indonesia are participating as observers.

HMCS Calgary’s participation in the exercise comes at the tail end of the vessel’s deployment on Operation Projection.

The British Columbia-based warship is set to return to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt in early September.