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US, Japanese carriers link up for training in contentious South China Sea

Sailors man the rails as the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arrives at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Dec. 4, 2017. (JANWEB LAGAZO/U.S. NAVY PHOTO)
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Several U.S. and Japanese ships recently trained together in the contentious waters of the South China Sea.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter carrier JS Kaga linked up there on Friday to practice maneuvers, sail in formation and conduct replenishment-at-sea training, a Navy statement said.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, the guided-missile destroyer USS Milius and the JMSDF destroyers JS Inazum and JS Suzutsuki also took part in the drills.

The Ronald Reagan and the Kaga — one of Japan’s two new helicopter carriers — deployed from Yokosuka last month to patrol a region that is wrought with tension over China’s militarization of artificial South China Sea islets and an ongoing dispute between Tokyo and Beijing over the sovereignty of the Japan-controlled Senkaku island chain.

Navy officials referred to the Ronald Reagan strike group’s deployment as a “patrol,” while the JMSDF described their two-month journey through the South China Sea and Indian Ocean as a “training mission.” A JMSDF spokesman last month told Stars and Stripes he hoped the mission would contribute to a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region.

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During Friday’s drills, the Ronald Reagan and Kaga hosted liaisons from one another’s crews for discussions and training, the Navy statement said. Task Force 70 commander Rear Adm. Karl Thomas boarded the Kaga for a discussion with JMSDF Rear Adm. Tatsuya Fukuda, commander of Escort Flotilla 4, regarding “maritime unit cohesion.”

“The teamwork and professionalism I have experienced by both [Task Force 70] and JMSDF sailors during this training operation has truly demonstrated how seamlessly we can integrate with our Japanese allies,” Thomas said in the statement.

The Kaga is scheduled to return to Yokosuka in October. The Navy does not announce movement plans for its vessels.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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