USS Ronald Reagan and USS Theodore Roosevelt are patrolling the western Pacific Ocean, while the USS Nimitz is in the east, according to U.S. Navy statements. Each vessel containing more than 60 aircraft represents the largest deployment of U.S. aircraft carriers in the Pacific since 2017 – when tensions with North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program were at their peak.
“Carriers and carrier groups of large carriers are phenomenal symbols of U.S. naval power. I’m really quite upset that we currently have three,” warned Rear Admin Stephen Koehler, director of operations of the Indo-Pacific Command in Na Hawaii, he told the AP.
On Sunday, Communist Party spokesman Global Times said carriers could threaten troops in the disputed South China Sea.
The report – published on the official English website of the People’s Liberation Army – also highlighted the weapons available to the Chinese military, adding that Beijing could hold exercises in response by showing its firepower.
“China possesses lethal aircraft carrier weapons such as the DF-21D and DF-26 ballistic missiles,” the story reads.
The accommodations mean that three of the seven active carriers of the U.S. Navy are located in the Pacific Ocean. The other four are in port for maintenance.
“This goes against the narrative that China wanted to announce that the US was under stress in the Pacific,” Koch said.
“We brought Theodore Roosevelt back to the sea as a symbol of hope and inspiration, and an instrument of national power because we are a TR,” said Roosevelt’s commander, Captain Carlos Sardiello.
Reagan returned to sea in late May, after crew members were restricted from moving at their home port in Japan to ensure its deployment without any Covid-19 cases. It is also loaded with more than 1,000 tons of weapons – “enough combat power to keep the ship sitting five inches lower on the waterline,” the U.S. Navy said in a statement.
The move came after the U.S. Pacific Fleet said last month that all of its submarines ahead were at sea in operations in the Western Pacific. They did not receive any numbers, but experts said that more than eight hard-to-reach ships for a quick attack were probably involved.
Carl Schuster, former director of operations of the Joint Intelligence Center of the U.S. Pacific Command, said it was no coincidence.
“(The Chinese Navy) doesn’t know where those submarines are and that complicates any calculations and reaction planning,” he said, especially when Beijing now has to reckon with both three aircraft carriers and accompanying destroyers and cruisers.
The accommodations are also coming at a time of growing tensions between Washington and Beijing over the South China Sea and Taiwan.
Last week, a U.S. Navy C-40 transport plane, the equivalent of a Boeing 737, flew over Taiwan en route to Thailand, which the Navy said was a routine logistics flight. Taiwanese air controllers operated a U.S. plane over Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory, U.S. Navy spokeswoman Reann Mommsen said.
But Beijing called the flight an “illegal act and a serious provocation,” the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
“The overflight violated China’s sovereignty, security and development interests and violated international law and the basic norms governing international relations,” Xinhua said, referring to Zhu Fenglian, a spokesman for the Taiwan State Bureau of Relations.