In what appears to be a growing norm, the U.S. Navy recently deployed two aircraft carrier strike groups (CSG) near Chinese-occupied islands in the South China Sea (SCS). The super carriers and their escorts conducted, according to the Pentagon, “dual-carrier operations in the Indo-Pacific in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts.”
The carriers are the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) which last year was sidelined in Guam for a time due to a major COVID break out, and is the flag ship for CSG 9, and the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) super carrier, which leads CSG 11.
Seeing two U.S. supercarriers together, with full complements of combat aircraft and their escorts, provides a spectacular photo opportunity.
But these images are meant to send a powerful message, especially to China and U.S. allies in the region; the 7th Fleet in the Pacific is fully ready and capable to enforce freedom of navigation through any international waters, regardless of illegal claims by China.
China outrageously claims almost 90 percent of the SCS as its territorial waters despite an international ruling in 2016 discrediting and invalidating that claim. Last July, the Trump administration formally rejected Beijing’s claims as bogus and ramped up Navy operations in the area.
The 7th Fleet is the U.S. Navy’s largest forward-deployed fleet and includes 50 to 70 ships and submarines across the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans. It may soon be complemented by a reactivated 1st Fleet that was proposed last year to focus more exclusively on the Indian Ocean. It would potentially be based at a U.S. naval base in Singapore.
These two large Carrier Strike Groups now near China form a formidable flotilla of warships and airpower.
According to the Navy:
CSG 9 consists of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52), Destroyer Squadron 23, and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Russell (DDG 59) and USS John Finn (DDG 113).
CSG 11 consists of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17, guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59), the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, USS Sterett (DDG 104), and Destroyer Squadron 9 and CSG 11 staffs.
The 100,000-ton carriers each carry upwards of 70 aircraft, including F-18 Hornets and Super Hornets, as well as EA-18 Growler radar jamming jets, and E-2C/D Hawkeye AWACS planes, plus several SH-60 type helicopters for anti-submarine warfare and other missions.
The last time the U.S. conducted dual carrier operations in the South China Sea was in July 2020, when the Ronald Reagan and Nimitz carrier strike groups twice operated together in the South China Sea. As CHina grows more belligerent, expect more dual carrier operations in the SCS going forward.