US superforce patrolling PH Sea
TWO US supercarrier groups have started operations in the Philippine Sea, in what the Philippine government said was a demonstration of Washington’s “ironclad commitment” as the world awaits a ruling by a United Nations tribunal on Manila’s petition to invalidate China’s so-called nine-dash line in the South China Sea.
“It is a show of how invested they are to the cause of peace, freedom and stability in our region and how resolute they are in their ironclad commitment to the Philippines,” Defense spokesperson Peter Paul Galvez told the Inquirer by phone.
The Nimitz-class supercarriers USS Ronald Reagan and the USS John C. Stennis strike groups commenced “dual carrier flight operations” in the Philippine Sea yesterday, although Galvez clarified they were not within the country’s territorial waters.
The US Pacific Command statement was accompanied by stunning photos of the two US Navy aircraft carriers and its Great Green Fleet, an initiative to use alternative fuel for its military ships that was launched earlier this year.
The Stennis and the Great Green Fleet had just come from a trilateral exercise called Malabar, which included the US and Indian navies, along with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), before it linked up with the USS Ronald Reagan in the Philippine Sea.
The Ronald Reagan is the US Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier.
Multiple strike group
“The ships and aircraft assigned to both strike groups began coordinated operations in international waters demonstrating the United States’ unique capability to operate multiple carrier strike groups in close proximity,” the US Pacific Command said in a statement.
“While at sea, the strike groups conducted air defense drills, sea surveillance, replenishments at sea, defensive air combat training, long range strikes, coordinated maneuvers and other exercises,” it added.
The apparent show of force comes as The Hague-based UN arbitral tribunal is expected to hand down its verdict soon, a ruling largely expected to favor the Philippines. China, however, has steadfastly refused to take part in the proceedings.
China claims some 90 percent of the 1.35-million-square-mile South China Sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan claim parts of it. The overlapping claims have caused tensions in the sea region.
Rear Adm. John Alexander, commander of Battle Force 7th Fleet and Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 5, said the operations “is a great opportunity for us to train in a high end scenario.”
“We must take advantage of these opportunities to practice war fighting techniques that are required to prevail in modern naval operations,” Alexander said.
Rear Adm. Marcus Hitchcock, commander of CSG 3, added that “no other Navy can concentrate this much combat power on one sea or synchronize the activities of over 12,000 sailors, 140 aircraft, six combatants and two carriers.”
“It is truly impressive, and it is an important operational capability,” Hitchcock said.
The statement said the CSG 3 consists of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay and guided-missile destroyers of Destroyer Squadron 21, USS Stockdale, USS Chung-Hoon and USS William P. Lawrence, and the aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 9. CSG 3 began operating in the Western Pacific on Feb. 4.
The CSG 5 consists of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, guided-missile cruisers USS Shiloh and USS Chancellorsville and guided-missile destroyers from Destroyer Squadron 15, USS Curtis Wilbur, USS McCampbell, USS Benfold, and the aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 5.
CSG 5 is forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, and routinely patrols the Western Pacific, the statement said, adding that CSG 5 commenced its summer patrol of the Indo-Asia Pacific on June 4.
The US Pacific Command statement stressed that the US, as a “Pacific nation and a Pacific leader… has a national interest in maintaining security and prosperity, the peaceful resolution of disputes, unimpeded lawful commerce, and adherence to freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the shared domains of the Indo-Asia Pacific.”