Dangerous Escalation: US Navy will Sail its Warships Closer to China’s Man-Made Islands in South China Sea
The U.S. Navy plans to sail more of its warships closer to China's militarized man-made islands in the South China Sea in a dramatic and dangerous escalation of its ongoing freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS).
A Navy source said the Trump administration also plans to develop a strategy aimed at preventing more land reclamation by China; ending Chinese militarization and deterring China from using its militarized islands to intimidate and coerce its neighbors.
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Other sources said these new danger close FONOPS still need to get the green light from Washington, but the Navy already has more than enough firepower in the Pacific to defeat any Chinese military response.
The United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) based in Hawaii is in charge of all FONOPS in the South China Sea. It commands the United States Pacific Fleet (USPACFLT) consisting of the United States Third Fleet and United States Seventh Fleet.
USPACFLT currently has three nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and their attached carrier strike groups patrolling Asia. The carrier air wings aboard these three carriers have a combined 140 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike fighters, excluding other planes and helicopters.
Navy sources said the carrier strike group of the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), which is Carrier Strike Group (CSG) One, will be tasked with carrying-out these more provocative FONOPS.
The Carl Vinson is now headed towards the South China Sea. Escorting her to Asia are the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG-57) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG-108). Another guided missile destroyer, the USS Michael Murphy (DDG-112), will later join the three warships.
Sources said Pentagon plans probably involve sailing destroyers of Destroyer Squadron One, which is attached to Carrier Strike Group One, to within 12 nautical miles of China's militarized and man-made islands located in the Spratly Islands (which are claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam), and the Paracel Islands (claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan).
Such a provocative move will be a dangerous new challenge to Chinese territorial claims that were invalidated on July 12, 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The court declared illegal China's claim to own most of the South China Sea based on unlawful "historic rights."