“We will be here,” Rear Adm. James Kilby said on board the aircraft carrier ‘USS Carl Vinson’, as it steamed through the gentle blue waters, with F18 fighter jets landing, taking off on catapults and zooming over the mammoth warship.
“We have operated here in the past, we’re going to operate here in the future, we’re going to continue to reassure our allies,” Kilby said. “We’re gonna continue to demonstrate that international waters are waters where everyone can sail, where everyone can conduct commerce and merchant traffic and that’s the message we want to leave with people.”
While aboard the USS Carl Vinson,South China Sea,The flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson shakes as a succession of F-18 fighter jets are catapulted into take-off, emitting a thunderous noise and leaving white mist in their wake.
Crewmen aboard the aircraft carrier scramble to prepare for the next arrival in a frenetic cycle of take-offs and landings involving dozens of aircraft, a dramatic display of American power in the hotly contested South China Sea.
The nuclear-powered Carl Vinson, which is manned by about 5,500 military personnel, has sailed through the contested region several times and other U.S. warships have routinely patrolled the waters for decades, Kilby said.
A US admiral on Friday (3 March) said the American navy would continue to patrol the South China Sea to ensure freedom of navigation operation. He said the presence of aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson shows America’s “commitment” and not its power to the Asia-Pacific region.
According to Reuters, some 30 fighter jets, helicopters and other aircraft took off from the Vinson carrier on Friday (3 March) as part of the freedom of navigation operation patrols in the sea. The kilometer-long flight deck of the Carl Vinson sailed some 400 nautical miles east of China’s Hainan Island and northeast of the Paracels on Friday.
The crew aboard Carl Vinson is expected to spend five months in Asia, sources reported.
China claims most of the South China Sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
China’s growing military presence in the waters has fuelled concern in the West, with the United States criticising its militarisation of maritime outposts and holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.
During his Senate confirmation hearing for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson stirred controversy by comparing China’s island-building and deployment of military assets to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, and suggesting China’s access to the island should not be allowed.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, however, has stressed the importance of diplomacy in resolving disputes in the South China Sea rather than military maneuvers.
In recent years, China has turned seven mostly submerged disputed reefs into islands where Beijing is now reportedly installing a missile defence system. Chinese officials have stressed that they have a right to carry out those constructions in what they say are their territories and add they have no hostile intentions in the region.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have long contested ownership of the South China Sea, which straddles one of the world’s busiest sea lanes and is believed to sit atop vast deposits of oil and gas.