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Despite coronavirus, U.S. military projects firepower in South China Sea

  • COURTESY U.S. AIR FORCE
                                Paratroopers assigned to the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, conduct a Joint Forcible Entry Operation jump into Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, on June 30.

    COURTESY U.S. AIR FORCE

    Paratroopers assigned to the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, conduct a Joint Forcible Entry Operation jump into Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, on June 30.

  • COURTESY U.S. NAVY
                                Lightning flashes over the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz as it transits the South China Sea.

    COURTESY U.S. NAVY

    Lightning flashes over the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz as it transits the South China Sea.

The USS Nimitz and Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike groups observed Independence Day demonstrating “unmatched sea power” while conducting dual carrier operations in the South China Sea, the Navy said, as military muscle flexing continues on both sides of growing discord in the region.

“These efforts support enduring U.S. commitments to stand up for the right of all nations to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,” the Navy said in a release.

Global Times, a hawkish tabloid under the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily, fumed over the latest U.S. show of power — which in recent days has included an Army paratrooper drop on Guam and a B-52 bomber link-up with aircraft carrier-based Navy planes in the South China Sea.

Part of the message is believed to be aimed at relaying the message that COVID-19 hasn’t crippled U.S. forces in the region. The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt was sidelined in Guam for nearly two months due to a coronavirus outbreak.

“At a time when relations between China and the U.S. are further deteriorating over a series of topics including trade, the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan and Hong Kong, the U.S. has deployed two aircraft carriers and other warships to the South China Sea for its largest-scale exercises in the region in years, which also coincided with Chinese military drills taking place in the same area and time frame,” Global Times wrote Sunday.

The two US aircraft carrier battle groups “are nothing more than paper tigers on China’s doorsteps,” as the region “is fully within the grasp” of the People’s Liberation Army with “specially made weapons that can destroy (an) aircraft carrier,” the publication said.

Global Times on Saturday tweeted that China’s arsenal includes DF-21D and DF-26 missiles known as “carrier killers,” and any U.S. aircraft carrier movement in the region “is at the pleasure of” the People’s Liberation Army.

To that threat, the U.S. Chief of Naval Information tweeted: “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.”

Each aircraft carrier has more than 5,000 crew and 60 aircraft.

The Defense Department said it was “concerned” about the People’s Republic of China decision to conduct military exercises around the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea July 1 through Sunday.

“The designated area where the exercises are due to take place encompass contested waters and territory. Conducting military exercises over disputed territory in the South China Sea is counterproductive to efforts at easing tensions and maintaining stability,” the Pentagon said in a release.

China, Vietnam and Taiwan claim the Paracel Islands.

Today, China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the Paracel Islands, which China calls the Xisha Islands, “are indisputably China’s territory. China’s military training in the waters surrounding the Xisha Islands is within China’s sovereignty and beyond reproach.”

On June 30, more than 350 paratroopers from the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Airborne out of Alaska parachuted into Guam as part of an “emergency deployment readiness exercise” described by the Army as “the largest airborne operation here in recent memory.”

The soldiers flew on multiple C-17 cargo carriers from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, with a mission to secure a notional airfield in the Pacific. The exercise is an indicator of the Pentagon’s plan to operate from remote islands in the western Pacific in the event of conflict with China.

“This scenario tested our ability to execute real-world missions and demonstrated that we are capable of deploying anywhere in the U. S. Indo-Pacific Command area at a moment’s notice.” Col. Christopher Landers, commander of the 4th Brigade, said in an Army-produced news story.

Meanwhile, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber from the 96th Bomb Squadron took off from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and participated in a maritime integration exercise with the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike groups in the South China Sea before landing Saturday at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

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