Seven Russian Warships Are Doing Something Weird Near Hawaii

Meanwhile, the U.S. is gearing up for a missile test. Hmm.
IMAGE DMITRY YEFREMOV / GETTY IMAGES

A large Russian Navy task force, including the flagship of Moscow’s Pacific Fleet, is cruising pretty far from home: just south of Hawaii. The U.S. government, meanwhile, appears to be preparing for a major missile defense test. It sure seems like the two incidents are related.

The Russian fleet consists of the guided missile cruiser Varyag (above), the frigates Marshal Shaposhnikov and Admiral Panteleyev, and the Steregushchy-class frigates Sovershenny, Gromkiy, and Aldar Tsydenzhapov.

Marshal Krylov docked at the Dalzavod Ship Repair Centre in Vladivostok, November 2016. As pictured, the ship lacks the large white geodesic dome designed to protect the radar system from the elements.
Photo by YURI SMITYU | KGETTY IMAGES.

The tip-off to the Russian task force’s presence is the Marshal Krylov, an unarmed missile range instrumentation ship. The 692-foot-long ship is designed to sit downrange of a long-range missile test and observe with its Ship Globe (NATO nickname) missile-tracking radar. The Krylov also boasts balloon and surface/air search radars, the Tayfun-2 satellite communications system, and the Shtorm communications suite.

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Then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev inspects the Russian missile cruiser Varyag in San Francisco, June 2010.
Photo by DMITRY ASTAKHOV | GETTY IMAGES.

As of press time, the Russian ships’ last publicly known location, 35 nautical miles south of Honolulu, is 4,100 miles from their home port of Vladivostok. The Russian fleet rarely sorties this far east in strength; in fact, Varyag last traveled this far when it visited San Francisco in 2010.

A Russian Aerospace Force Tu-95MS "Bear" long range bomber of the type that flew near Hawaii earlier this month.
Photo by ANADOLU AGENCY | GETTY IMAGES.
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What’s prompting the Russian fleet’s visit? Marco Langbroek, a highly respected Dutch space watcher, has pieced together geographic information from international governments’ Navigation Warnings, which tell mariners to avoid certain areas—defined by latitude/longitude coordinates—for a set period of time.

The information Langbroek has assembled suggests the U.S. government is conducting a missile defense test involving a simulated ballistic missile launched from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. This test will also coincide with a launch, likely of an interceptor missile, from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. The intercept, if successful, would take place northwest of Hawaii.

A number of U.S. missile test and support ships are operating in the central Pacific. M/V Pacific Collector and M/V Pacific Tracker are two ships designed to observe missile defense tests at high altitude, collecting data to support further research.

The identity of the Sovereign is unknown. Another ship in the line above, the USNS Worthy, is a missile range instrumentation ship based at Kwajalein Atoll. The southernmost ship, the Coast Guard Cutter Frederick Hatch, is a Guam-based, 154-foot-long fast response cutter and one of the newest in the Coast Guard.

Here’s Pacific Tracker, whose location unknown, but is likely near its home port of Portland, Oregon. Note the large domes designed to protect radar from the elements:

The Russian task force is unusually large, and is probably meant to send a message to the relatively new Biden Administration. That message? As much as the rapid buildup of the Chinese Navy and China’s aggressive foreign policy generates worries, the Russians want to remind everyone they’re also a major naval power in the Pacific.

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As for the test, we’ll likely know within the next 48 hours what exactly happened—and whether or not it was successful.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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