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Russian spy ship parks near Hawaii, reportedly thwarting US missile test

Russian intelligence ship Kareliya (SSV-535) sailinh alongside the U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser USS Texas (CGN-39), December 1988. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)
May 28, 2021

A Russian surveillance ship that has been loitering off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii for several days is delaying a U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) missile test, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Thursday.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet which is headquartered at Pearl Harbor told the Star-Advertiser on Wednesday that it “is aware of the Russian vessel operating in international waters in the vicinity of Hawaii, and will continue to track it through the duration of its time here. Through maritime patrol aircraft, surface ships and joint capabilities, we can closely monitor all vessels in the Indo-Pacific area of operations.”

The Russian warship was identified as the Kareliya (SSV-535), a Vishnya-class auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) ship operated by Russia’s Navy. The ship has been spotted as close as 13 nautical miles west of Kauai. Territorial waters extended 12 nautical miles from land.

The Star-Advertiser reported it was unclear if the ship was broadcasting its shipboard automatic identification system (AIS). The Russian ship’s presence runs the risk of interfering with the MDA test.

The Star-Advertiser reported the MDA test could be to test a Standard Missile (SM-6) intercept of a replicated cruise missile threat.

The MDA has launched other recent missile tests from the northern end of Hawaii. In November, the agency tested a Standard Missile-3 Block IIA against a test intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), successfully launching the SM-3 from a U.S. warship to intercept an ICBM target in space for the first time.

At the time of this article’s publication, the MDA had not responded to an American Military News request for comment about the Russian surveillance ship’s potential impact on its missile tests.

An official told the Star-Advertiser the appearance of a Russian or Chinese intelligence-gathering ship off Hawaii’s coast is within historical norms.

In 2018, after China was disinvited from the biennial international Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercises that year, it sent a spy ship near Hawaii to observe the exercises. At the time, Chilean Commodore Pablo Niemann, the combined forces maritime component commander for that year’s RIMPAC, said, “It is very disappointing that the presence of a non-participating ship could disrupt the exercise. I hope and expect all seafarers to act professionally so we may continue to focus on the work at hand and building on the spirit of cooperation that gives purpose to this exercise.”

Russia similarly sailed another surveillance ship near the 2016 RIMPAC exercises.