KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Two U.S. Navy carrier strike groups are currently drilling in the South China Sea amid the latest show of force of Chinese aircraft into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone on Sunday.
The Carl Vinson CSG and Abraham Lincoln CSG began dual-carrier operations in the South China on Sunday, the same day Taiwan said the People’s Liberation Army Air Force flew 39 planes in Taiwan’s ADIZ.
The CSGs “will engage in joint operations to include enhanced maritime communication operations, anti-submarine warfare operations, air warfare operations, replenishments-at-sea, cross-deck flight operations and maritime interdiction operations to strengthen maritime integrated-at-sea operations and combat readiness,” the U.S. Navy said in a news release, adding that training will take place in accordance with international law in international waters.
Throughout the last year there have been multiple incursions of Chinese aircraft in Taiwan’s ADIZ, heightening tensions between the both the U.S. and China and Taiwan and China.
“Our ability to rapidly aggregate and work collectively alongside CSG 3, highlights the U.S. Navy’s ability to deliver overwhelming maritime force, when called upon, to support a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” Rear Adm. Dan Martin, the commander of CSG 1, said in the Navy news release. “We are committed to ensuring the lawful use of the sea and free flow of commerce while deterring those who challenge the shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific now and into the long-term future.”
The two American CSGs conducted an exercise in the Philippine Sea last week with the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, the America Expeditionary Strike Group and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer helicopter carrier JS Hyuga ( DDH-181) and destroyer JS Myoko (DDG-175).
In a news release issued today, the JMSDF said the exercise took place in the vicinity of Oki Daito Island, an uninhabited island 315 kilometers, or about 196 miles, southeast of Okinawa. In December, the People’s Liberation Army Navy aircraft carrier Liaoning (16) conducted flight operations in the same area.
CSG 1, which is the Carl Vinson CSG, currently includes aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG-57), destroyers USS Stockdale (DDG-106) and USS Chafee (DDG-90), replenishment ship USNS Yukon (T-AO-202) and dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE-11). The Abraham Lincoln CSG, CSG 3, includes USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9; cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG-53); and destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62), USS Gridley (DDG 101), USS Sampson (DDG-102) and USS Spruance (DDG-111). Sampson has since been detached and is now heading to Tonga to assist in relief efforts following the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano earlier this month.
JMSDF landing ship tank JS Osumi (LST-4001), Royal Australian Navy landing helicopter dock HMAS Adelaide (L01), United Kingdom Royal Navy patrol ship HMS Spey (P234) and Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) multi-role support vessel HMNZS Canterbury (L421) are also heading to Tonga to join the relief effort. RNZN offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington (P55) and replenishment ship HMNZS Aotearoa (A11) are already on the scene conducting relief operations. Osumi departed today from Kure, while the others are already in transit to Tonga. The French Navy is sending Patrol Vessel FNS Arago (P675) Offshore Patrol Vessel FNS La Glorieuse (P686).
“The Self-Defense Fleet has been making efforts to deepen friendly relations and strengthen cooperation with the Pacific island nations by conducting goodwill visits and training exercises at ordinary times, with the aim of realizing a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific.’ In this mission, we will do our best to support the reconstruction of our friend, the Kingdom of Tonga, hoping for its early recovery and sustainable development,” Vice Adm. Hideki Yuasa, the commander of the Joint Task Force for International Disaster Relief Operations in Tonga, said in a JMSDF news release about the departure.
Osumi, Adelaide and Canterbury all have embarked helicopters on board to assist in airlifting supplies and with carrying integral landing crafts. Osumi is carrying two Japan Ground Self-Defense Force CH-47 Chinooks and two Landing Craft Air Cushions. Adelaide is carrying three Australian Army CH-47s and likely its full capacity of four LCACs, while Canterbury is carrying two Royal New Zealand Air Force NH-90s and two landing craft.
A great shot of #HMASAdelaide with three @AustralianArmy CH-47 helicopters on the flight deck. Adelaide is en route to Tonga to provide humanitarian supplies and assistance. #OpTongaAssist
📸: POIS Christopher Szumlanski @Australian_Navy #YourADF pic.twitter.com/Ubq8P69RY6
— Commander Australian Fleet (@COMAUSFLT) January 23, 2022
Tonga’s Fua’amotu International Airport has now been cleared of volcanic ash, allowing Royal Australian Air Force C-17s, Japan Air Self-Defense Force C-2s and C-130s, and RNZAF C-130s to fly in relief supplies and equipment.
In other developments, German Navy Chief Vice Adm. Kay-Achim Schönbach resigned on Saturday following a furor over his comments in India on Friday, when he downplayed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions over Ukraine.
“Is Russia really interested in … a small, tiny strip of Ukraine’s soil? No, this is nonsense,” Schönbach said during a session at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, which was uploaded to Youtube. The admiral added that “what he really wants is respect. And my God, giving someone respect is low cost, even no cost … so if I was asked, it is easy to even give him the respect he really demands, and probably also deserves.”
He went on to say that “Russia is an old country. Russia is an important country. Even we, India, Germany, we need Russia, because we need Russia against China.”
The German Navy Chief also remarked that “the Crimea peninsula is gone. It will never come back, this is a fact,” a statement that contradicts Western nations’ position that the annexation was unacceptable and that the territory should be returned.
His remarks came amid criticism of the German government for its unwillingness to supply Ukraine with weapons, while other NATO countries were doing so in an effort to deter Russia, which has massed troops along its border with Ukraine.
Schönbach announced his resignation on Saturday in a release stating: “I have just asked the Federal Minister of Defense to release me from my duties and duties as Inspector of the Navy with immediate effect. The thoughtless comments I made in India on security and military policy are increasingly weighing on my office. In order to prevent further damage from the German Navy, the Bundeswehr, but above all from the Federal Republic of Germany, I consider this step to be necessary. The Federal Minister accepted my request. The Commander of the Fleet and Deputy Inspector of the Navy, Rear Admiral Kaack, will lead the German Navy until a successor decision is made.”
Schönbach only recently took over as German Navy Chief in March of 2021.
Schönbach was in India in conjunction with the visit of German Navy Frigate FGS Bayern (F217), which arrived on Friday in Mumbai during the final leg of its seven-month deployment to the Indo-Pacific. Bayern departed today from Mumbai and conducted a passage exercise with Indian Navy destroyer INS Visakhapatnam (D66) as it left.