Home » Budget Industry » U.S. Weighing More Freedom of Navigation Operations in South China Sea Near Reclaimed Islands


U.S. Weighing More Freedom of Navigation Operations in South China Sea Near Reclaimed Islands

USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) conducts patrols in international waters of the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands on May 11, 2015. US Navy Photo

USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) conducts patrols in international waters of the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands on May 11, 2015. US Navy Photo

The Obama administration is considering conducting more freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea as a partial counter to China’s rapid artificial island expansion in the region, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs told a Senate panel on Thursday.

Within the last year, China has rapidly expanded small outcrops in the Spratly and Paracel islands and built facilities that could easily be militarized and shift the balance of power in the region.

“Preventing the Chinese from further militarizing those features a range of options — including freedom of navigation exercises — and we’re considering those options now,” David Shear told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).
“The Chinese have not yet placed advanced weaponry on those features and we’re going to do everything we can to ensure that they don’t. This is going to be a long term effort, there are no silver bullets in this effort but we are certainly complicating Chinese calculations already.”

Chinese island building dominated the SASC hearing on the U.S. Asian maritime strategy with a string of senators pushing Shear and U.S. Pacific Command commander (PACOM) Adm. Harry Harris for justifications on why the U.S. hasn’t done more to exercise maritime rights in the South China Sea.

SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked Shear and Harris if the U.S. — which doesn’t recognize Chinese sovereignty of the reclaimed islands — had come within the 12 nautical miles of the new installations.

Under the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention — which the U.S. has not ratified but follows — a country’s territorial waters begin at 12 nautical miles away from shore.

“If you respect the 12 [nautical] mile limit then it’s a de facto sovereignty, agreed to by the Chinese,” he said.

Shear told the panel the last time a U.S. warship passed within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese claimed artificial island was in 2013 and that it was up to the White House to authorize additional passes.

“We continue to operate freely in the South China Sea and continue to prevent the Chinese from coercing our allies and partners into crafting deals that are not in their interest or in our interest with regard to claims in the South China Sea,” Shear said.

“That’s a pretty low bar,” McCain said.

Shear and Harris did express concern over what the new installations could mean for the region.

“If you look at all of these facilities — and you could imagine a network of missiles sites, runways for their fifth generation fighters and surveillance sites and all that — it creates a mechanism in which China would have de facto control over the South China Sea in any scenario short of war,” Harris said.
“These are obviously easy targets in war, it’s what we call in the military, “grapes” if you will, but short of that, the militarization of these features pose a threat against all other countries in the region.”

Senators also quizzed Shear and Harris on how earlier this month, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) surface action group passed into U.S. territorial waters off Alaska after operating in the Bering Sea.

Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan asked Harris and Shear if the early September incident has been timed to coincide with President Obama’s visit to the state.

“I think it was coincidental but I don’t know that for fact,” Harris said.
“I’m not going into intelligence matters at all — they were having an exercise with the Russians and that exercise was long planned and they then decided to go into the Bering Sea, they were near there anyway and then they turned south and headed home.”

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Categories: Budget Industry, Foreign Forces, Submarine Forces, U.S. Navy
Sam LaGrone

About Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He was formerly the U.S. Maritime Correspondent for the Washington D.C. bureau of Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s Navy International. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.

  • Eric Arllen

    So, now we’re pushing for greater freedom of navigation through what the PRC asserts are it’s territorial waters as a matter of our essential national interest. But, in a staggeringly schizophrenic act we have very recently enthusiastically guzzled the LOST Koolade. Weird, huh?

  • bass_man86

    The last time that I checked the PRC was involved in territorial disputes with 19 neighboring countries, including Russia. Their “19 dash line” has both concerned and angered their neighbors and since it was included as a watermark on Chinese passports, Vietnam has pointedly refused to place entry stamps directly on Chinese passports choosing instead to stamp separate pieces of paper, which are subsequently stapled in Chinese passports. If we fail assert our freedom to fly above and navigate within 12 NM of these artificial islands, we will only be legitimatizing the PRC’s blatant attempts at claiming the whole of the South China Sea while failing to honor our obligations to the regional allies of the United States.

  • publius_maximus_III

    “Oh no, not a dreaded American LCS, which I’ve read so much about,” thinks the PLAN commander charged with militarizing the shoal to himself. “I must report back to my superiors in Beijing immediately, and explain to them we must abandon our grave error.”

    • redgriffin

      So you’d feel better with an 8″ cruiser and a carrier strike group?

      • publius_maximus_III

        Maybe send the Love Boat next time, so we all be fwends.

        • redgriffin

          The Love Boat was siezed in Turkey last year for drug smuggling so I guess you stuck with an Usan OPV.

          • publius_maximus_III

            Gack, foiled again by the Midnight Express!

            So, alright then, a dratted River Boat it shall be — but only if BatDad will be manning the helm… (lowers voice to a deep gravelly tone): “OK commie aggressors, drop the mud pies, or taste a widget from my utility belt.”

      • Secundius

        @ redgriffin.

        Well, they could always “Dust-Off’ the Plans to the Mk. 71 8-inch (203.2mm/55-caliber) Artillery Deck Gun, and mount them on the Tico’s ans AB’s…

        • redgriffin

          Sure they could or is that like the Saturn V unable to be built at this time due to the fact that we have lost the technology?

          • Secundius

            @ redgriffin.

            In the case of the Saturn V, we DIDN’T loose the Technology. We DESTROYED the Technology, Purposely…

          • redgriffin

            No we dismantled all the technology It no longer exists. We could build one but we would have to spend millions of dollar to restore the infrastructure. Including the launch pad.

          • Secundius

            @ redgriffin.

            Actually, a Three Year Study in 2009 was made and the Conclusion was. That NASA “Dumped” OLD Digital Data, for NEW Digital Date. Unfortunately, Nobody bother the see what Data was Being DUMPED. One Source DID Have Duplicated Data, unfortunately it wasn’t NASA…

          • redgriffin

            Yes digital data was dumped but so were the jigs and special tools used to build the Saturn V also the VAB has been extensively modified so that NASA could build the Shuttle Stacks it would have to be extensively modified back which would cost $$$ for which NASA is looking for so they can build the Very Large Launch Vehicles necessary to travel to Mars.

          • Secundius

            @ redgriffin.

            The Saturn V Launch Vehicles are there, Sir. Just look at some of the Memorial Sites, Outside Some NASA Buildings, and The Smithsonian Museums to Find Them. Also the Library of Congress should have the Schematics of Every Rocket that Were Ever Built, including Russian/Soviet designs, Nazi-Germany designs, etc…

          • redgriffin

            Yes but can we make the 1 Saturn V flyable? in a short period of time? Don’t mistake the fact that the thing exists with our ability to make it work in a quick period of time and then you would have to find companies to make your components and tools.

          • Secundius

            @ redgriffin.

            The last Saturn V, flight was in May 1973. Which means they been sitting in the Open (Exposed) to the Elements, for at least 40+ years. It would be Safer to build one from “Scratch”…

  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    A show about nothing…

  • Matt

    We do possess a silver bullet. The weapon’s name is CHAMP. Google it. All work on those islands could be stopped within an hour without a single loss of life. This administration has got to start standing up for rule of law before lawlessness spreads even further. Fat chance, I know…

    • Ken N

      So basically we should start shooting ?

      • Matt

        What is the difference between cyber attacks and use of CHAMP? CHAMP is the perfect response to China’s cyber attacks and would make them blink and change their behavior. Their invasion of the SCS is an attack which demands a proper response. CHAMP is the silver bullet, it should absolutely be fired.

        • We deploy CHAMP, they deploy nukes. The ChiComs will not be swayed…

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