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The US Navy Just Showed Off Its Firepower in the South China Sea

South China Sea
U.S. Sailors watch from a landing craft as they pull away from the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand, March 2, 2011. Essex is the lead ship of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and was participating in Maritime Exercise 11, a theater security cooperation visit to improve capabilities of the United States and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam M. Bennett, U.S. Navy/Released).

Two of the most powerful formations in the U.S. Navy just completed a show of force in the South China Sea as U.S. diplomats decried Chinese claims over the maritime area.

Earlier this week, the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group and the Essex Amphibious Ready Group conducted a joint expeditionary strike force training operation in the contested sea lane, sending a message to Beijing.

Show of Force

Centered around the nuclear aircraft USS Carl Vinson and the landing helicopter dock USS Essex, the two groups conducted joint training in the South China Sea.

The two naval formations drilled several mission sets, including integrated maritime strike missions, maritime interdiction operations, anti-submarine warfare, replenishment-at-sea, and formation maneuvering/navigation operations.

“Our ability to quickly and effectively integrate with an amphibious ready group, such as ESX ARG, demonstrates a diverse level of naval lethality that is unlike any other naval force. The long-range strike capability of the Vinson Strike Group combined with the Essex ARG’s potential to deliver a payload of Marines to any maritime region greatly contributes to the U.S. strategic ability to continue defending a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Rear Admiral Dan Martin, the commanding officer of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 1, said in a press release.

In addition to the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Essex, the USS Lake Champlain, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, the USS Michael Murphy, USS O’Kane, and USS Chafee, three Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, and the USS Pearl Harbor, an amphibious dock landing ship, participated in the drills.

The integrated operations also gave the F-35B and the F-35C stealth fighter jets the opportunity to work together; the former is operating onboard the USS Essex and the latter onboard the USS Carl Vinson.

“Our opportunity to conduct integrated operations with Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group this past week showcases the U.S. Navy’s commitment to defending regional stability in the Indo-Pacific not only through our combined expertise and experience but through the differing capabilities of U.S. Navy big deck platforms,” Captain Karrey Sanders, the commodore of Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 1, stated.

China’s Illegal Claims 

The joint expeditionary strike force training operation coincided with the U.S. State Department’s report on the South China Sea.

The report produced by the State Department’s Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs concluded that Beijing’s claims over the South China Sea “are plainly inconsistent with international law as reflected” in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

For years China has been harassing its neighboring countries in an attempt to scare them away from the South China Sea and assert its dominance in the region. In November, for example, People’s Republic of China (PRC) Coast Guard ships blocked and attacked with water cannons Philippine resupply ships heading to the Second Thomas Shoal, which is one of the most hotly contested parts of the South China Sea and has a garrison of Philippine military forces.

At the time, the U.S. State Department had stated that “on July 12, 2016, an Arbitral Tribunal constituted under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, delivered a unanimous and enduring decision firmly rejecting the PRC’s claims to Second Thomas Shoal and to waters determined to be part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. The PRC and the Philippines, pursuant to their treaty obligations under the Law of the Sea Convention, are legally bound to comply with this decision. The PRC should not interfere with lawful Philippine activities in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.”

Beijing’s truculence in the South China Sea undermines regional security and global free trade as a great portion of maritime trade passes from the region.

1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.