The USS Ronald Reagan, one of the United States’ 10 nuclear powered Nimitz Class aircraft carriers, successfully completed sea trials last week after a long in-port maintenance period, and departed its home port in Yokosuka naval base in Japan to resume scheduled operations in the Asia-Pacific Region on Tuesday.

The carrier was originally scheduled to return to full operations on May 15th, but was delayed by a day by an unnamed technical issue that was reportedly resolved aboard the vessel.

“While in port Yokosuka and conducting routine pre-underway checks, a material issue was identified that requires repair,” a May 15 U.S. Navy statement said. “There is no impact to the safety of the aircraft carrier.”

The Ronald Reagan and accompanying ships within its carrier strike group now join the USS Carl Vinson strike group in the Pacific.  The Carl Vinson has been in the headlines in recent weeks as it steamed toward the Korean peninsula amid heightened tensions between the North Korean government and an international community intent on seeing their nuclear aspirations stymied.

The Ronald Reagan will be conducting its regularly scheduled “routine patrols” of the Pacific, which will likely include maintaining a presence in or near the South China Sea.  China has dramatically increased its military presence in the heavily trafficked waterway while laying claim to the majority of the region, despite conflicting claims being levied by a number of other Asian nations that share a coast with the body of water.

The Ronald Reagan strike group’s presence in the region, however, could easily be seen as a statement to the North Korean government, as well as critical Chinese and Russian government officials that claim to seek a denuclearized Korean peninsula but seem to consistently place the blame for tensions with North Korea on the United States.

Despite making no official statements indicating that the Ronald Reagan will head for the Sea of Japan, where the USS Carl Vinson Strike Group is currently operating, its relative proximity in the South China Sea amounts to a massive show of force in the region.  Collectively, the Ronald Reagan and Carl Vinson boast a crew of upwards of 10,000 sailors, 90 F/A-18C Hornet and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike fighters, and a number of other types of aircraft.

These massive vessels are the largest warships ever put to sea, but they aren’t the only U.S. vessels in the Pacific that pack a formidable punch.  Each Nimitz Class Carrier is accompanied by guided missile destroyers, Aegis destroyers, Ticonderoga-class cruisers, and usually at least one nuclear attack submarine shadowing the Naval entourage to provide anti-submarine warfare security.

Although these two powerhouses currently have different standing orders, it can’t be ignored that the United States currently has more firepower afloat in the region than many nations could boast in their entire military arsenals.  Tensions with North Korea and China may continue to rise, but with the presence of these two strike groups in the Pacific, the United States is on solid military footing if the worst were to occur.

“As the President and the Prime Minister made clear, the United States will strengthen its presence in the Asia-Pacific, Japan will assume a larger role and responsibility in our alliance in the years ahead, and both of our nations will continue to expand our cooperation for our common defense,” Vice President Mike Pence said aboard the Ronald Reagan last month.

Beyond this noble ship and the carrier strike group that it leads, by the year 2020, this ocean will boast 60 percent of our Navy’s fleet.  And the skies above already have F-35 Joint Strike Fighters flying for freedom.” – Vice President Pence

It is also possible that the Ronald Reagan could replace the USS Carl Vinson near the Korean Peninsula, freeing up the carrier for other operations elsewhere in the Pacific.  Currently, the Ronald Reagan has not announced any scheduled stops or training rotations scheduled, but local media within Japan has reported that it is slated to conduct joint training operations with the Japanese Maritime Defense Force in the Sea of Japan or the East China Sea.  In either event, its looming presence on the horizon with the Carl Vinson so close by should give North Korea’s reclusive leader pause.

It seems unlikely this increase in military equipment and personnel will be enough to force a shift in Kim Jong Un’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means by which to deliver them around the globe, but the addition of the USS Ronald Reagan strike group could certainly be seen as a bargaining chip, and in the worst case scenario, a massive amount of backup for the already formidable Carl Vinson.

Image courtesy of the US Navy