1200px-First_F-35_headed_for_USAF_serviceAustralia scrambled an air force surveillance plane earlier this month to monitor an unannounced Chinese military exercise that took the emerging superpower’s ships closer to Australian territory than ever before. In what observers say is a significant strategic development, China carried out combat simulations at the beginning of the month between Christmas Island and Indonesia in an apparent flexing of its growing naval muscle. China had not announced the exercise. When Australia became aware that the three Chinese vessels were sailing across the waters to the north, the Royal Australian Air Force sent an AP-3C Orion maritime surveillance plane from RAAF Base Edinburgh, near Adelaide, to observe. The Chinese flotilla – two destroyers and a landing ship able to carry hundreds of marines – came closer than the People’s Liberation Army Navy ships had ever come while carrying out such an exercise. It was the first time China had carried out a military simulation in Australia’s maritime approaches. The three warships came through the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, skirted along the southern side of Java – taking them close to Christmas Island – before turning north through the Lombok Strait next to Bali. More