The USS Gabrielle Giffords is carrying a powerful new missile to help U.S. forces in the Pacific region, a disputed region of the world over which China wants to control.
The ship left San Diego earlier in September equipped with the U.S. Navy’s new Naval Strike Missile and a drone helicopter that helps aim it, CNN reported Wednesday.
According to Raytheon, the primary contract for the new Naval Strike Missiles, the weapons system is designed to skim over the sea, making it difficult to spot on radar. It is also designed to maneuver to avoid enemy defenses.
The Navy is also fielding the MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter drone, which is used to scout for targets.
The USS Gabrielle Giffords is the first littoral combat ship to deploy with Naval Strike Missiles, although more than 30 are planned to eventually be equipped with them Navy officials told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee earlier this year.
The Naval Strike Missile will help increase the firepower of already strong naval force in the region, according to Cmdr. John Fage, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s 3rd Fleet who confirmed their deployment.
“The Pentagon is building a military force that can operate on a more sustainable basis and has a better chance of fighting and surviving within the [Chinese’] deadly anti-access, area denial envelope,” said Timothy Heath, a Rand Corp. senior defense analyst.
The USS Gabrielle Giffords was named after former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt when she was shot in the head on January 8, 2011. The shooter also shot twenty-four other individuals, killing six were killed including federal judge John Roll and a 9-year-old child. Another 18 people were wounded in the attack.
South China Sea is a heavily commercially trafficked area and tensions between the United States and China are rising due to a dispute over control of the region.
China has doubled its nuclear arsenal in last decade, and it will again in the next, Rear Admiral Michael Brookes, director of intelligence for Stratcom, said in a press briefing, American Military News reported Aug. 9.
The Chinese military has been rapidly building up its naval forces in an effort to control more of the ocean and challenge the U.S. Navy for dominance over the seas.
The nation has plans to build six more aircraft carriers by 2035, four of which will be nuclear-powered. China currently has five aircraft carriers.
Wang Yunfei, a retired People’s Liberation Army (PLA) destroyer naval officer, said previously that four of the carriers will work on the front line.
“China’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers with [electromagnetic aircraft catapult systems] are expected to join the navy by 2035, bringing the total number of carriers to at least six – although only four will work at the front line,” he said.
“The country needs to keep developing until it is at the same level as the United States,” Wang added.
The U.S. military currently has 20 ships capable of acting as aircraft carriers. There are 11 nuclear-powered carriers and nine amphibious ships capable of deploying as carriers.