US sends strike group to South China Sea (Bien Dong Sea) for flight drill

The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group entered the South China Sea (called Bien Dong Sea) on August 14, and conducted maritime air defense operations in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
August 15, 2020 | 21:38
foreign policy latest drill of us navys carriers hints a message to china Foreign Policy: Latest drill of US Navy’s carriers hints a message to China
us sent two aircraft carriers many warships to the east sea south china sea amid chinas drills US sent two aircraft carriers, many warships to the East Sea (South China Sea) amid China's drills
china says it hold military exercises as us carrier enters east sea China says it hold military exercises as US carrier enters East Sea
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An F/A-18E Super Hornet attached to VFA 195 prepares launches from USS Ronald Reagan, Aug. 14. Photo: US Navy

The strike group – USS Ronald Reagan, Carrier Air Wing 5, USS Antietam, USS Mustin, and USS Rafael Peralta - conducted flight operations with fixed and rotary wing aircraft, and high-end maritime stability operations and exercises, according to the US Pacific Fleet.

The drill comes amid heightened tensions between the US and China. Washington has criticised Beijing over its coronavirus response and accuses it of taking advantage of the pandemic to push territorial claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere, Al Jazeera reported.

"Integration with our joint partners is essential to ensuring joint force responsiveness and lethality, and maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific," said US Navy Cmdr. Joshua Fagan, Task Force 70 air operations officer aboard USS Ronald Reagan. "The recent integrated training between our carrier strike group and Air Force B-1s is the latest example of how we are continually working to stay synched with all of our joint partners and ready to respond to any contingencies throughout the region."

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An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 195 prepares to launch from USS Ronald Reagan during operations in the South China Sea, Aug. 14. Photo: US Navy

The US Navy regularly conducts operations and exercises with other US military branches in the Indo-Pacific to build and maintain warfighting readiness that is responsive, flexible, and honors enduring commitments to mutual defense agreements with regional allies and partners, the US Pacific Fleet said.

Operations in the South China Sea continue to demonstrate enduring US commitment to allies and partners, and a cooperative approach to regional stability and freedom of the seas, it noted.

The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is the US Navy’s only forward-deployed carrier strike group, comprised of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin, and squadrons assigned to Carrier Air Wing 5 embarked aboard Ronald Reagan.

The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is forward-deployed to the US 7th Fleet area of operations in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific, the Pacific Fleet said.

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Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan in the South China Sea. Photo: US Navy

The US has long opposed China's expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea and has sent warships regularly through the strategic waterway, Al Jazeera reported.

China has objected to such exercises and said the US rejection of its claims in the South China Sea has raised tension and undermined stability in the region.

On July 17, USS Ronald and USS Nimitz, resumed their dual exercises in the South China Sea following their first operation in the waters earlier the same month.

More than 12,000 US military personnel among the two aircraft carriers and their escorting cruisers and destroyers, were operating in the South China Sea as of July 17, the US Pacific Fleet said in a statement.

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In this photo provided by the US Navy, the USS Ronald Reagan sails in the South China Sea on July 6, 2020. Photo: US Navy via AP

The two carriers, with more than 120 aircraft deployed between them, were conducting tactical air defense drills "to maintain warfighting readiness and proficiency," the statement said.

"The two-carrier strike force trains to the highest levels of readiness to ensure responsiveness to any contingency through power projection," it said.

The presence of the Nimitz and Reagan in the South China Sea early July marked the first time two US aircraft carriers have operated together there since 2014 and only the second time since 2001, CNN reported.

Earlier this week, SCMP cited a source saying that Chinese service personnel including pilots and naval officials was told “not to fire the first shot” as Beijing looks to de-escalate tensions with the United States in the South China Sea.

Both sides have stepped up their operations in the disputed waters, increasing the risk of incidents that spiral out of control, but Beijing does not want to give American hawks the opportunity to escalate things further, the outlets informed.

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