Drills start on US aircraft carriers
TWO US aircraft carriers have started exercises in the Philippine Sea, defense officials said on Sunday, as Washington’s close ally Manila faces growing pressure from Beijing in the South China Sea.
The US Pacific Command said the USS John C. Stennis and the USS Ronald Reagan, among the world’s largest warships, began conducting air defense drills, sea surveillance, and long range strikes on Saturday.
The command said the operations marked America’s continued presence in the Asia-Pacific region as China expands its maritime strength and engages in massive island-building activities in the South China Sea.
“No other navy can concentrate this much combat power on one sea … It was truly impressive,” said US Rear Adm. Marcus Hitchcock, carrier strike group commander.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited the Stennis in April as it sailed off the Philippines near the disputed Spratly islands where China has expanded islets and reefs into islands capable of supporting airfields and other installations.
The Philippines has been upgrading its defense ties with the United States, its longtime treaty ally, to help boost the ability of one of Asia’s weakest armed forces.
The US exercises synchronized the activities of more than 12,000 sailors, 140 aircraft, six combatants and the two carriers, Hitchcock said.
The command said the drills were meant to promote freedom of navigation and overflight in the region’s airspace and waters.
“[This] has been a great opportunity for us to train on how we would operate multiple carrier strike groups in a contested environment,” said US Rear Adm. John Alexander, another carrier strike group commander. AFP
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