Some of the most important warships from the United States Navy were last seen within the vicinity of the contested South China Sea area. The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln is currently in Manila for a port visit after operations in the contested waters. USS Miguel Keith is also in the Philippines in preparation for the upcoming Balikatan 2022 — a large-scale joint military exercise between the US and the Philippines.

USS Miguel Keith: A Base at Sea

The USS Miguel Keith, an Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB), entered the South China Sea region for the first time on March 21 since it was released for deployment in the Pacific last Oct. 2021. The massive 90,000-ton vessel can be used as an offshore command base for the Navy.

ESB class ships are highly flexible and can serve as a staging platform for various military operations across different operational phases. Acting as a mobile base at sea, this class provides vital access to infrastructure that supports the deployment of troops and supplies troops in distant areas.

Sailors assigned to expeditionary sea base USS Miguel Keith (ESB 5) stand in formation on the flight deck as the ship sails in the Pacific Ocean, Aug 19. Miguel Keith is underway conducting routine operations in U.S. 3rd Fleet. (DVIDS, U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Hector Carrera). Source: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/6798661/uss-miguel-keith-photoex
Sailors assigned to expeditionary sea base USS Miguel Keith (ESB 5) stand in formation on the flight deck as the ship sails in the Pacific Ocean, Aug 19. Miguel Keith is underway conducting routine operations in US 3rd Fleet. (DVIDS, US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Hector Carrera)

“This re-designation provides combatant commanders greater operational flexibility to employ this platform in accordance with the laws of armed conflict,” a Navy spokesman said to USNI News during the USS Miguel Keith’s service commission ceremony.

The US Navy has three ESB class ships in operation: the USS Lewis B. Puller, USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, and the USS Miguel Keith. These are currently being utilized in maritime missions such as Airborne Mine Counter Measures and Special Operations Force.

USS Miguel Keith was sent to the Philippines to participate in the Balikatan 2022 Joint Military exercise, which will run from March 28 to April 8 across the country’s main island of Luzon. The event features around 8,900 troops, with 3,800 coming from the Philippine Armed Forces and 5,100 from the US Military, to participate in a multitude of military training operations.

“Balikatan 22 coincides with the 75th anniversary of US-Philippine security cooperation and a shared commitment to promoting peace,” Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron, 3rd Marine Division Commanding General. “Our alliance remains a key source of strength and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Before visiting the Philippines, the Miguel Keith also participated in the US-Japan naval exercises known as Noble Fusion, held in February. According to a report by the Global Times, Miguel Keith is expected to participate in the other joint military exercises with the US allies.

USS Abraham Lincoln: First Woman-led Super Carrier with a Local Crew

Another key US warship, the Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), also known as “Abe,” is docked in the Philippines, in the South China Sea (the Philippines has since renamed their portion of the sea as the “West Philippine Sea”). The vessel is commandeered by Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt, the first woman to lead a nuclear carrier in history.

Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt, newly appointed commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, delivers remarks during a change of command ceremony held on the flight deck. Capt. Walt "Sarge" Slaughter successfully completed his 26 month tour as commanding officer during which Abraham Lincoln completed a 10-month combat deployment, the largest carrier work package ever completed in San Diego, and returned to sea in preparation for an upcoming deployment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Slaughter was relieved by Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt. (DVIDS, U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeremiah Bartelt/Released). Source: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/6794630/uss-abraham-lincoln-cvn-72-change-command
Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt, newly appointed commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, delivers remarks during a change of command ceremony held on the flight deck. Capt. Walt “Sarge” Slaughter successfully completed his 26-month tour as commanding officer, during which Abraham Lincoln completed a 10-month combat deployment, the largest carrier work package ever completed in San Diego, and returned to sea in preparation for an upcoming deployment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Slaughter was relieved by Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt. (DVIDS, US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeremiah Bartelt/Released)

The vessel entered the disputed waters in late January 2022 to engage in joint military training operations with nearby US allies. It recently led a massive training exercise in the West Philippine Sea with naval craft from the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Of Abe’s crew of around 5,000 sailors, approximately 10% of them are Filipinos. Many of them were excited about the opportunity to visit their home country and see some close relatives.

“I am committed to fulfilling the ship’s mission as a proud representative of the Filipino people,” Petty Officer 3rd Class Jessica Romero said, who shared that she was looking forward to seeing her family after moving to the US in 2018.

Abe’s arrival is part of the US Navy’s “global deterrent presence,” which aims to strengthen regional partnerships and reinstate freedom of navigation, according to Rear Admiral Jeffrey Anderson, commander of the US Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 3. It can be remembered that China has increasingly been aggressive with claiming its so-called sea territory under its “historical” 9-dash line, which nobody but itself recognizes. Furthermore, it was reported by SOFREP last week that the Chinese had militarized at least three islands in the disputed regions of the South China Sea, raising concerns of further naval aggression from China.

Aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) returns to its homeport of Naval Air Station North Island. Lincoln returned upon completion of a scheduled underway in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of operations. (DVIDS, U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Rosa Paschall). Source: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/6747814/uss-abraham-lincoln-cvn-72-returns
The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) returns to its homeport of Naval Air Station North Island. Lincoln returned upon completion of a scheduled underway in the US 3rd Fleet area of operations. (DVIDS, US Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Rosa Paschall).

The visit is also intended to bolster the cooperative ties between the US and the Philippines through military exercises that will increase efficiency and the skills of the participants, according to Anderson.

“These exercises showcase the teamwork and integration between the Navy, the Marine Corps, our allies, and partners in the Asia Pacific,” said Anderson, who cited the longstanding history of cooperation between the two countries.

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“Our presence and engagements demonstrate our commitment to the region as we continue to protect our collective interest, enhance our security and safeguard our shared values,” he added.

Some of the Filipino sailors working in the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) (PNA photo by Lade Kabagani). Source: https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1170706
Some of the Filipino sailors working in the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) (PNA photo by Lade Kabagani)

The first time the USS Abraham Lincoln docked on Philippine shores was in 1991, during the aftermath of the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. The supercarrier was used to support evacuation efforts for many affected Filipinos.

During the evacuation efforts, a mother gave birth to a child aboard the carrier on their journey from Subic to Cebu. The baby was named Abraham Lincoln Prestera as it was named after the vessel.

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