Rare 3-carrier exercise in Pacific

China Daily
Huang Panyue

The US Navy said it will launch a rare military exercise involving three aircraft carrier strike groups in the western Pacific, from Nov 11-14. It will be the first three-carrier exercise in the area since 2007.

The groups include the USS Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt. They are expected to conduct coordinated operations in international waters in a show of the US Navy's unique capability to operate multiple carrier groups as a coordinated strike force.

"It is a rare opportunity to train with two aircraft carriers together, and even rarer to be able to train with three," said US Pacific Fleet Commander, Admiral Scott Swift.

US President Donald Trump, who is on his first Asia trip, on Wednesday warned the Democratic People's Republic of Korea "not to underestimate the will and power of the United States" over the Korean Peninsula issue.

Zhao Xiaozhuo, director of the Center of China-US Defense Relations Studies of the PLA Academy of Military Science, said the US has been resorting to diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions and military measures to further press the DPRK to abandon its nuclear endeavors.

"The prospective exercise by the carriers is also part of the US' combined efforts. The US is showing that it can be mild and tough at the same time," he said. "The US government might be willing to lower the threshold for negotiations with the DPRK, but it appears to insist on high pressure."

The timing of the exercise must have been carefully planned but whether it will achieve the US' intentions depends on how the DPRK will see it, Zhao said.

The strike forces plan to conduct air defense drills, sea surveillance, replenishments at sea, defensive air combat training, close-in coordinated maneuvers and other training.

The 100,000-ton Ronald Reagan, based in Japan, carries around 70 combat aircraft and is the US Navy's most powerful warship in Asia.

This is the first time that three US carrier strike groups have operated together in the western Pacific in the last 10 years. The last time three US carrier strike groups exercised together was in 2007 when the Nimitz, along with the John C. Stennis and Kitty Hawk participated in drills near Guam.

Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force Staff Office said Japan will dispatch destroyers and other vessels for the drills. Japanese forces have trained with two US carriers in the Sea of Japan as recently as June, but this will be their first joint exercises with three. There have been a lot of military movements in the region in recent days.

Navies of the US, Japan and India held their first joint drills in the Sea of Japan on Nov 3-6. The Japanese destroyer Inazuma and Indian frigate Satpura participated along with the US carrier Ronald Reagan.

The Mainichi Shimbun reported that US Navy's landing craft air cushions from the Yokose facility in Saikai, Nagasaki prefecture, conducted a drill in Sasebo Bay in Southwest Japan from Tuesday through Thursday. The Saikai municipal government has protested over the LCACs' nighttime exercises.


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