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Pics: 2 US carrier groups in South China Sea launch security ops in message to China

An F/A-18E Super Hornet launches from USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) in the South China Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Deirdre Marsac)
February 09, 2021

Two U.S. Navy aircraft carrier groups entered the South China Sea on Tuesday to conduct security operations near Chinese-controlled islands in an apparent message to China.

USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) and USS Nimitz (CVN-68) led their respective carrier strike groups into the South China Sea Tuesday and “are conducting dual carrier operations in the Indo-Pacific in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts,” according to a Navy photo caption of the training operations.

The USS Nimitz (CVN 68) leads a formation of ships from the Nimitz and Roosevelt Carrier Strike Groups during dual carrier operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Markus Castaneda)

The two carrier strike groups “conducted a multitude of exercises aimed at increasing interoperability between assets as well as command and control capabilities,” the Navy said in a statement to Reuters.

The combined carrier operation is the first dual carrier operation in the South China Sea since July of 2020, when the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) joined the USS Nimitz for sea operations there.

An F/A-18E Super Hornet launches from the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zachary Wheeler)

The Navy operations in the South China Sea also serve to assert U.S. freedom of operations in the sea region, which China has attempted to lay claim to in recent years.

An F/A-18E Super Hornet launches from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Drace Wilson)

“We are committed to ensuring the lawful use of the sea that all nations enjoy under international law,” Rear Admiral Jim Kirk, commander of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, told Reuters.

An E/A-18G Growler launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Drace Wilson)

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the U.S. sent two carrier groups to the South China Sea to “flex its muscles.” Wenbin said the show of force was “not conducive to peace and stability in the region.”

“China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly defend national sovereignty and security and work together with regional countries to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Wenbin added.

Aircraft assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17 fly over the Roosevelt and Nimitz Carrier Strike Groups in the South China Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Deirdre Marsac)

As Wenbin addressed reporters Tuesday, AFP noted two French navy ships were also conducting freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea.

Wenbin said, “There is no problem with freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. China always respects the freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed by all countries in the South China Sea in accordance with international law. However, We oppose any attempt to undermine China’s sovereignty and security and disrupt regional peace and tranquility under the pretext of ‘freedom of navigation.'”

An F/A-18E Super Hornet launches from the flight deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zachary Wheeler)