USS Ronald Reagan and USS Theodore Roosevelt are both patrolling the western Pacific, while USS Nimitz is in the east, according to US Navy press reports. With more than 60 aircraft on each ship, this marks the largest deployment of US aircraft carriers in the Pacific since 2017 – when tensions with North Korea mounted on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
“The carriers and the carrier strike groups are exceptional symbols for the American Navy. I was really fired when we got three of them,” said Rear Adm. Stephen Koehler, operations director at Indo-Pacific Command, Hawaii, told the AP.
On Sunday, the Communist Party’s Global Times mouthpiece said carriers could threaten troops in the disputed South China Sea.
The report – posted on the official English website of the People’s Liberation Army – also highlighted the weapons available to the Chinese military, saying Beijing could conduct drills in response to the demonstration of its ammunition.
“The aircraft carrier killer weapons at China are DF-21D and DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missiles,” the story said.
Counter-narrative of China
The deployment means that three of the US Navy’s seven active aircraft carriers are in the Pacific. The other four are in port for maintenance.
“This is contrary to the narrative that China is putting forth that the US is under pressure in the Pacific,” Koh said.
“We return Theodore Roosevelt to the sea, a symbol of hope and inspiration, and an instrument of national power as we are the TR,” Roosevelt commander Captain Carlos Sardillo said in a statement.
Reagan returned to the sea at the end of May after restricting personnel at his home port in Japan to be deployed without Covid-19 cases. It was also loaded with an ordinance of more than 1,000 tons – “enough war power to make the ship sit five inches below the waterline,” the US Navy said.
The move comes after the US Pacific Fleet said last month that its forward-deployed submarines were in maritime operations in the western Pacific. The numbers are not given, but experts say there are more than eight track-fast-attack vessels.
It’s not a coincidence, says Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.
“The Chinese Navy does not know where those submarines are, and this complicates any response calculations and planning,” he said, noting that Beijing now must include three aircraft carriers and destroyers and cruisers.
These expansions also come at a time of rising tensions between Washington and Beijing over the South China Sea and Taiwan.
Last week, the Navy said that a US Navy C-40 transport aircraft similar to a Boeing 737 was a regular logistics flight en route to Thailand over Thailand. US Navy spokesman Ryan Mamsen told CNN that Taiwanese air controllers have flown the US jet over Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory.
But Beijing called the flight “an illegal act and a serious provocation”, the state-owned Xinhua news service said.
“Overflight has undermined China’s sovereignty, security and development interests and violated international law and fundamental rules that guide international relations,” Xinhua’s story quoted Hu Hu Fenglian, a spokesman for the State Council’s Taiwan affairs office.