For the first time in nearly three years, three American aircraft carriers are patrolling the Indo-Pacific waters, a massive show of naval force in a region roiled by spiking tensions between the US and China.
The three US aircraft carriers, namely the USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan, together with other US naval warships and aircraft, are patrolling the Indo-Pacific waters, the Associated Press reported.
With each vessel containing more than 60 aircraft, it represents the biggest deployment of US aircraft carriers in the Pacific since 2017 — when tensions with North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program were at their peak.
The unusual simultaneous appearance of the three warships, accompanied by Navy cruisers, destroyers, fighter jets and other aircraft, comes as the US escalates criticism of Beijing’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, its moves to impose greater control over Hong Kong and its campaign to militarise human-made islands in the South China Sea.
“Carriers and carrier strike groups writ large are phenomenal symbols of American naval power. I really am pretty fired up that we’ve got three of them at the moment,” Rear Adm. Stephen Koehler, director of operations at Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, told AP.
“There have been some indications in Chinese writings that the United States was hit hard by Covid-19, that military preparedness was low, so perhaps there is an effort by the United States to signal China that it should not miscalculate,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
“The Chinese will definitely portray this as an example of US provocations, and as evidence that the US is a source of instability in the region.”
By massing these aircraft carriers, the US 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 as well as vessels passing through nearby waters, Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times.
Chinese military experts said China could counter it by holding military drills and showing its ability and determination to safeguard its territorial integrity.
All three aircraft carriers were hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, which left the US with no aircraft carriers in the western Pacific region for more than two months, The Global Times reported.
Naval and aerial forces of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have “expelled” many US warships that entered China’s territorial waters off the Xisha and Nansha islands in the South China Sea this year, according to PLA statements.
In addition to standard naval warships, aircraft and missiles, China claims it possesses a wide range of weapons designed to sink aircraft carriers, such as the medium-range anti-ship ballistic missile DF-21D that can cover the First Island Chain, and the intermediate range anti-ship ballistic missile DF-26 that can reportedly reach Guam.
These missiles can attack medium-sized to large surface vessels from above at very high speeds, making them difficult to intercept, The Global Times reported.
In fact, experts say a hypersonic missile travels at such great speed, a well-targeted hit, even without a warhead, would pass right through a ship, likely putting it out of action.
However military experts say that locating, targeting, directing and hitting such a vessel is not as easy as it sounds, with a complicated “kill chain” that could easily be disrupted by myriad US defenses.