U.S. Sends Major Military Muscle to the South China Sea
The Pentagon staged its largest exercise in the South China Sea in years, sending two carrier battle groups and a B-52H Stratofortress heavy strategic bomber into the strategic waterway. The carrier battle group demonstrated that the U.S. military could still deploy a considerable military force thousands of miles from home in the middle of a global pandemic. China says that the exercise was “muscle flexing” designed to militarize the region.
The two carriers, the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan, rendezvoused in an undisclosed location in the South China Sea. Together, the two carrier strike groups formed the Nimitz Carrier Strike Force. The Strike Force ran “several tactical exercises designed to maximize air defense capabilities, and extend the reach of long range precision maritime strikes from carrier-based aircraft in a rapidly evolving area of operations.” Strike fighters from both carriers simulated enemy air attacks, “ testing the force’s ability to detect, intercept, and engage threats.”
The Strike Force was joined at sea by a B-52H Stratofortress flying nonstop from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisana. The B-52H, part of the 96th Bomb Squadron, 2nd Bomb Wing flew nonstop from the continental United States, participated in the exercise, and then flew on to Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam. The entire mission took 28 hours.
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USS Nimitz is based at Everett, Washington, and is the centerpiece of Carrier Strike Group 11. Nimitz’s air wing, Carrier Wing 11, consists of two squadrons of single seat F/A-18E Super Hornet strike fighters, one squadron of twin-seat F/A-18F Super Hornets, and one squadron of EA-18G Growler electronic attack jets. The air wing is rounded out by one Marine fighter squadron flying older F/A-18C Hornets. According to the U.S. Navy, Nimitz’s escorts include the guided-missile cruiser Princeton and guided-missile destroyers Sterett and Ralph Johnson.
USS Reagan is based at Yokosuka, Japan, and is the U.S. Navy’s only aircraft carrier homeported in a foreign country. The carrier is home to Carrier Air Wing 5, consisting of four squadrons of F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet strike fighters and one electronic attack squadron. Reagan’s escorts include the cruiser USS Antietam and destroyer USS Mustin.
In addition to the jets and escorts, each carrier strike group typically includes one escort that never makes the official announcement: a nuclear-powered attack submarine. The Strike Force is almost certainly being escorted underwater by at least two Los Angeles or Virginia-class attack submarines that provide long-range anti-submarine screening.