An aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Nimitz is conducting operations in the disputed South China Sea, including practice strike missions by aircraft, the Navy disclosed Friday.
“The Nimitz carrier strike group has the capability to deliver integrated lethal and non-lethal effects from space to undersea, across every axis, and every domain,” said Rear Adm. Christopher Sweeney, commander of the strike group.
“Our sailors’ tenacity and warfighting prowess are unmatched and a testimony to our country’s determination to work alongside our allies and partners to maintain free and open seas,” he said.
The operations by the carrier, its air wing and three warships include “maritime strike training,” along with anti-submarine warfare practices and joint training with surface ships and aircraft.
The Navy described the carrier operations as “routine operations in the Indo-Pacific.”
The carrier operations were planned for weeks. However, the activities are being conducted just over three weeks after a dangerous encounter between a Chinese J-11 fighter and an Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft.
The near-collision was the result of an “unsafe maneuver” by the J-11 pilot during an intercept of the aircraft, a Navy spokesman said.
Tensions remain high between China and the U.S. over Taiwan, where the People’s Liberation Army has stepped up provocative military flights and warship operations around the self-ruled island.
In the South China Sea, China has claimed an estimated 90% of the strategic waterway as its territory despite an international tribunal ruling in 2016 that the claims were illegal.
China’s military also has reclaimed an estimated 3,200 acres of islands claimed by several other nations and has deployed advanced anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles on some of the islands.
The Navy said the Nimitz and the guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, and guided-missile destroyers USS Decatur, USS Chung Hoon and USS Wayne E Meyer, began sailing in the South China Sea on Thursday.
“The strike group remains committed to protecting the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea, and upholding the rules-based international order alongside allies and partners,” the Navy said in a statement.
The strike group presence “demonstrates the ability to deliver overwhelming maritime force if called upon,” the statement added.
A Navy spokesman did not immediately respond when asked if Chinese warships or military aircraft were shadowing the carrier or monitoring its activities.
The Chinese government-linked South China Sea Probing Initiative, which monitors U.S. ship movements, stated on Twitter that the Nimitz was in the northern part of the South China Sea near the northern Philippines.