China considers naval drills to offset presence of three U.S. Navy carrier...

China considers naval drills to offset presence of three U.S. Navy carrier groups simultaneously in Pacific

The guided-missile destroyer USS Barry conducts a replenishment at sea training alongside the USS Ronald Reagan in the Pacific (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Samuel Hardgrove)

WASHINGTON — China said Monday it is considering new naval drills in the South China Sea in the wake of three U.S. aircraft carrier groups now cruising the waters of the Pacific.

In a statement posted on the People’s Liberation Army’s official English website, Beijing charged the U.S. is “attempting to demonstrate to the whole region and even the world that it remains the most powerful naval force, as they could enter the South China Sea and threaten Chinese troops on the Xisha and Nansha islands (Paracel and Spratly islands) as well as vessels passing through nearby waters, so the US could carry out its hegemonic politics.”

The threatened drills would include “aircraft carrier killer weapons” such as DF-21D and DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missiles, the statement declared.

Three carrier fleets are now in the Pacific — the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Theodore Roosevelt patrolling in the western Pacific, the USS Nimitz in the east, according to Navy press releases. The Navy has 11 carriers currently active, although some are in dry dock for routine maintenance; in addition, the USS Gerald Ford is undergoing trials and should be active soon.

Each air carrier wing has between 65 and 70 aircraft. It generally comes with one guided-missile cruiser and two or three guided-missile destroyers or frigates, totaling about 7,500 personnel. Sometimes the carrier strike group can include submarines, logistics ships, and a supply ship.

The three carriers and accompanying force is the biggest deployment of US aircraft carriers in the Pacific since 2017. That was when tensions with North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program were at their peak.

The Roosevelt left Guam on June 4 after spending weeks in port following a coronavirus outbreak on board in March that struck more than 1,000 of the ship’s nearly 4,900-member crew.

The Reagan returned to sea in late May after crew members were placed under restricted movements at its homeport in Japan to ensure it went to sea without any Covid-19 cases. It has also been loaded with more than 1,000 tons of ordnance — “enough combat power to cause the ship to sit five inches lower on the waterline,” a Navy statement said.

The Nimitz also dealt wit COVID-19 cases.

The carrier deployment is the latest move in ongoing harsh tensions between the U.S. and China in the region.

Last week, a US Navy C-40 transport plane flew over Taiwan en route to Thailand on what the Navy said was a routine logistics flight. Beijing called the flight “an unlawful act and a serious provocation,” the state-run Xinhua news service said.

On June 4, the Navy sent a guided-missile destroyer through the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from the Chinese mainland. That followed monthly and multiple freedom of navigation operations this year by the Navy in the South China Sea and regular overflights by B-1 bombers and surveillance planes.

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