Two US aircraft carriers are operating in the South China Sea; Air Force B-52 joins them

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As tensions between Beijing and Washington continue to simmer regarding who owns the South China Sea, the U.S. aircraft carriers Nimitz and Ronald Reagan conducted rare dual-carrier operations there this past weekend.

China has increasingly sought to cast the South China Sea as its maritime domain, and the U.S. Navy has responded by sailing vessels through those waters to reinforce the fact that they are international.

The two carriers launched fighter jets “around the clock,” while practicing other skills in tandem, according to a Navy release.

They were joined in the skies by an Air Force B-52 Stratofortress, a long-range, nuclear-capable bomber from the 2nd Bomb Wing, which took off from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and took part in the exercises.

Big Navy’s Instagram account got into the meme game this weekend as two U.S. aircraft carriers operated together in the South China Sea. (Screenshot/Instagram)

“Bomber Task Force demonstrates U.S. capability to rapidly deploy to a forward operating base and execute long-range strike missions,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Duff, 96th Bomb Squadron commander, in an Air Force news release. “This sortie demonstrates our ability to reach out from home station, fly anywhere in the world and execute those missions, rapidly regenerate from a forward operating base and continue operations.”

The BUFF aircrew assessed command and control capabilities “to inform the development of contested and degraded communication tactics, techniques and procedures to ensure seamless joint interoperability,” according to the news release.

Warships of the carrier strike force also practiced defending against an attack during the exercises, with carrier jets at times playing the enemy.

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The Nimitz steamed into the waters of Japan-based U.S. 7th Fleet last month, while the Reagan is home ported in Japan.

Two carriers are not believed to have operated together in the South China Sea since 2009, when the George Washington and Carl Vinson headed into the contentious waters.

They were joined by another flattop, the Theodore Roosevelt, last month in the nearby Philippine Sea,

The two carriers’ arrival in the South China Sea prompted a quarrel of sorts on Twitter, when China’s state-run Global Times tweeted out photos Saturday of DF-21D and DF-26 “aircraft carrier killer” missiles and noted that the U.S. carriers were in the South China Sea “at the pleasure” of the People’s Liberation Army.

Rear Adm. Charles Brown, the Navy’s chief of information, soon clapped back and retweeted the Global Times, noting that the carriers were there and would not be intimidated.

And yet, there they are. Two @USNavy aircraft carriers operating in the international waters of the South China Sea. #USSNimitz & #USSRonaldReagan are not intimidated #AtOurDiscretion https://t.co/QGTggRjOul

— Navy Chief of Information (@chinfo) July 5, 2020

Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the exercises were performed “totally out of ulterior motives” and undermined stability in the area.

“Against such a backdrop, the U.S. deliberately dispatched massive forces to conduct large-scale military exercises in the relevant waters of the South China Sea to flex its military muscle,” Zhao said at a daily briefing.

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.

About

Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at geoffz@militarytimes.com.

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