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Aircraft carrier show of force to start Saturday near Korean Peninsula

William Cole
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USS Nimitz, USS Kitty Hawk, and USS John C. Stennis carrier strike groups steam in formation as aircraft fly overhead during exercise Valiant Shield 2007 off Guam.

The USS Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz, and USS Theodore Roosevelt strike groups will conduct a three-carrier exercise in the Western Pacific Saturday through Tuesday in a show of force that hasn’t been replicated in the Pacific since 2007.

The dates of the carrier link-up were released today by the Navy’s 7th Fleet based in Yokosuka, Japan.

“It is a rare opportunity to train with two aircraft carriers together, and even rarer to be able to train with three,” U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift, who is based in Hawaii, said in a release. “Multiple carrier strike force operations are very complex, and this exercise in the Western Pacific is a strong testament to the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s unique ability and ironclad commitment to the continued security and stability of the region.”

The demonstration comes after a series of Navy ship accidents this year during a time of high demand and heightened tensions with North Korea.

President Donald Trump, in remarks to South Korea’s national assembly Tuesday, said, “currently stationed in the vicinity of this peninsula are the three largest aircraft carriers in the world loaded to the maximum” with fighter jets. “In addition, we have nuclear submarines appropriately positioned.”

The Theodore Roosevelt strike group alone has about 7,500 sailors and Marines. About a dozen escort ships and 225 aircraft are part of the armada.

Trump added that the North Korean regime continues to launch ballistic missiles over Japan, test nuclear devices and continues to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles to threaten the United States.

“The regime has interpreted America’s past restraint as weakness,” Trump said. “This would be a fatal miscalculation. This is a very different administration than the United States has had in the past.”

The three aircraft carriers and their escort ships plan to conduct air defense drills, sea surveillance, replenishments at sea, defensive air combat training, close-in coordinated maneuvers and other training, the Navy said.

It is the first time three carrier strike groups have operated together in the Western Pacific since exercises Valiant Shield 2006 and 2007 off the coast of Guam, according to the service.

“Both exercises focused on the ability to rapidly bring together forces from three strike groups in response to any regional situation,” the Navy said.

Ronald Reagan took part in Valiant Shield in 2006 and Nimitz took part in the exercise in 2007. More recently, U.S. Navy aircraft carriers have conducted dual-carrier strike group operations in the Western Pacific including in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Philippine Sea.

Following three collisions and one grounding involving U.S. Navy ships in the Western Pacific this year, the Navy conducted a comprehensive review of surface force incidents and found that the demand for ready and certified ships to support operations required in the Western Pacific ultimately exceeded the quantity that could be generated from surface forces based in Japan.

The series of ship mishaps “revealed weaknesses in the command structures in place to oversee readiness and manage operational risk for forces forward deployed in Japan,” the review found.

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