US carriers conduct warfare drills in Philippine Sea to ‘support free and open Indo-Pacific’

  • US Navy announces complex air, surface and anti-submarine warfare operations in international waters and airspace
  • Drills involve two strike groups combining 10 ships, 150 aircraft and 12,600 personnel
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 2:51pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 4:23pm

Two US aircraft carrier strike groups with 12,600 personnel are conducting warfare drills in the Philippine Sea in a show of force and commitment to the region at a time when China is increasing its military manoeuvres, the US Navy said on Thursday.

The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group are carrying out complex air, surface and anti-submarine warfare operations in international waters and airspace.

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“The increased presence of two carrier strike groups in the region highlights the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Vice Admiral Phil Sawyer, commander of US 7th Fleet, said in a statement.

“As it has for decades, the US Navy will continue to provide security in ways that promote regional stability and prosperity.”

The dual carrier operations of these two strike groups combine 10 ships, about 150 aircraft and 12,600 personnel.

“It shows our forces at their best, operating confidently at sea, and demonstrates that the US Navy will fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” Sawyer said.

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The US Navy has conducted such operations before, including drills by three carriers last year as tensions with North Korea escalated. The latest, which coincides with US Vice-President Mike Pence’s visit to the region, comes with relations between the US and China worsening.

At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit on Thursday, Pence said the US was committed to the Indo-Pacific region. Without naming any country, he said “empire and aggression” had no place in the region, and that nations should treat their neighbours with respect.

The US and Southeast Asian nations are alarmed by China building up military facilities including airstrips and radars on artificial islands of the South China Sea, and have condemned Beijing for also deploying navy and coastguard vessels to the disputed waters.

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The US has insisted it will continue its “freedom of navigation” operations in those waters despite a near-miss on September 30 when USS Decatur and the Chinese Luyang destroyer came within 41 metres (45 yards) of each other near Gaven Reef. Beijing had protested against the US operations and called on Washington to back down.

In 2016, Beijing refused a request for a USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group to visit Hong Kong during rising tensions over the South China Sea.