The South China Sea has been at the center of recent tensions between the United States and its allies and their economic, political, and possibly even military opponent, China.  The waterway sees an estimated $5 trillion in trade on an annual basis, nearly thirty percent of the global economy, and is said to contain large oil and natural gas deposits – as such, every power in the region has been trying to stake their claim.

China, for their part, have been using their rapidly developing military in a number of ways in an effort to secure a greater swath of the waterway: flying military aircraft over it, cruising their lone aircraft carrier through it, and even building man-made islands to house weapon systems in contested areas.  Their aggressive behavior has prompted an emphasis on increased relations with Japan and South Korea from the Trump administration, as our primary allies in the region.

As a part of our continued efforts to check Chinese aggression, and in keeping with statements made by Defense Secretary James Mattis on his trips to South Korea and Japan in recent weeks, the U.S. Navy deployed the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz class aircraft carrier, to the South China Sea over the weekend, accompanied by the American destroyer, the USS Wayne E. Meyer.

The Vinson, which first sailed in 1983 but underwent an overhaul and refit ending in 2009, is carrying sixty military aircraft, including F/A-18 jet fighters from the Navy’s Carrier Air Wing 2.  The Meyer sailing along with the carrier is an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer equipped with a suite of guns, torpedoes, and missiles.  The ship utilizes the Lockheed Martin designed Aegis Combat System to coordinate missile and radar equipment under a singular combat and control platform – dramatically increasing the effectiveness of the weapons on board.

Prior to departing for the South China Sea, the Carl Vinson and a number of other ships and aircraft from the strike group conducted training operations in the areas surrounding Hawaii and Guam.

“The training completed over the past few weeks has really brought the team together and improved our effectiveness and readiness as a strike group,” Rear Adm. James Kilby, commander of the strike group, said in a statement. “We are looking forward to demonstrating those capabilities while building upon existing strong relationships with our allies, partners and friends in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.”

According to a statement made by the U.S. Navy, the two ships are commencing routine operations in the South China Sea, though China’s claim to the majority of the waterway, along with overlapping territorial claims made by Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei, could make the operations anything but routine.

“China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang said at a news conference earlier this week. “China respects and upholds the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea which countries enjoy under international law, but firmly opposes any country’s attempt to undermine China’s sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight.”