Carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, USS Miguel Keith Operating in South China Sea

March 27, 2022 8:48 PM
Operations Specialist 2nd Class Nicholas Gonzales, from Lotulla, Texas, stands port lookout watch as the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) pulls into Manila bay, Philippines, for a port visit on March 25, 2022. US Navy Photo

Aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) is on a Manila port visit in Manila after operating in the South China Sea while Expeditionary Support Base USS Miguel Keith (ESB-6) is in the Philippines for the upcoming U.S-Philippines joint exercise Balikatan 2022, while U.S destroyers conducted firing exercises in the Philippine Sea on Thursday.

Balikatan 2022 will run from March 28 until April 8 across Luzon, Philippines and involve 3,800 Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel and 5,100 U.S military personnel according to a U.S Embassy Philippines release issued on Tuesday. “During Balikatan, the U.S. military and AFP will train together to expand and advance shared tactics, techniques, and procedures that strengthen our response capabilities and readiness for real-world challenges,” said Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron, 3rd Marine Division Commanding General in the release.

U.S military aircraft have been arriving in the Philippines over the past week with V-22 Ospreys of VMM-363 and KC-130Js of VGMR-152 arriving at Subic Bay International Airport on March 19 and Pacific Air Force (PACAF) C-17s and C-130s flying in to the airport to deliver equipment and material for the exercise. Miguel Keith is currently operating with CH-53E Super Stallions of HMH-466 and AH-1Z Vipers and UH-1Ys of HMLA-369 embarked.

Abraham Lincoln pulled into Manila Bay for a port visit on Friday after Wednesday’s operations in the South China Sea. Before that, the carrier was operating in the Philippine Sea. A number of U.S surface ships are also operating in the region on independent patrols. Navy released photos showed destroyers USS Dewey (DDG-105) and USS Milius (DDG-69) conducting live firing exercises on Thursday in the Philippine Sea, with Standard Missile 2 (SM-2) Block 3As. Earlier Dewey, Milius, USS Barry (DDG-52), and USS Higgins (DDG-76) were shown by 7th Fleet social media to be operating together on March 15 in the Pacific Ocean. All four destroyers are part of DESRON 15, which is based in Japan. The U.S, Australia and Japan conducted a trilateral exercise in the South China Sea which concluded on March 15. The exercise participants were destroyers USS Momsen (DDG-92) and JS Yudachi (DD-103), frigate HMAS Arunta (FFH-151) and a P-8A Maritime Patrol Aircraft from VP-26. A photo of the exercise with all three ships and the P-8 showed a Chinese warship observing in the background. Yudachi was homeward bound after a deployment to the Gulf of Aden on anti-piracy patrols.

Nearby in the South China Sea region of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) exercise Bersama Shield is ongoing from 19 March to April 22. The joint exercise involves 36 aircraft and three ships, Republic of Singapore Navy Corvette RSS Valour (89), Royal Malaysian Navy Next Generation Patrol Vessel KD Selangor (F176) and Royal Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel HMS Tamar (P233) operating together as a combined task group. 

Marines and sailors aboard the USS Miguel Keith (ESB-5) conduct flight operations ahead of Balikatan 22 Mar. 19, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

Japan reported the sighting of a Russian intelligence gathering ship on Sunday and a Russian destroyer on Tuesday in the Tsushima Strait. In a release on Tuesday, the Joint Staff Office of the Japan Self Defense Force stated that a Russian Navy Vishnya-class intelligence ship was sighted traveling southwest 40 km east-northeast of Tsushima. Then the ship went southward in the Tsushima Strait and was spotted around 70 km southwest of Tsushima. The ship then sailed northward in the Tsushima Strait towards the Sea of Japan. Photos of the ship show the pennant number corresponding to RFS Kareliya (535), which is assigned to Russia’s Pacific Fleet. The release stated that the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force multi-purpose support ship JS Amakusa (AMS-4303) and JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 4 based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi conducted monitoring on the Russian ship.

On Friday, the JSO issued a release stating that a Russian Navy destroyer was sighted at 2 p.m. Thursday traveling south-southwest 210 km northeast of Tsushima.Subsequently the ship sailed southward in the Tsushima Strait toward the East China Sea. The photo of the ship in the release shows the destroyer as RFS Admiral Panteleyev (548) and the release stated missile patrol boat JS Otaka (PG-826) and P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 4 observed the Russian ship.

The French Navy frigate FNS Vendémiaire (F734) is currently operating in the Sea of Japan as part of a deployment to Southeast and Northeast Asia. The ship recently concluded a port call to Busan, Republic of Korea from March 19 to 24. Before that it conducted monitoring surveillance missions in the East China Sea on ships violating the United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea.

Meanwhile the last of the ships involved in relief operations in Tonga have returned home. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Landing Platform Dock CNS Wuzhishan (987) and replenishment ship CNS Chaganhu (967) arrived home on Monday at Zhanjiang, Guangdong while over in Australia, the Landing Helicopter Dock HMAS Canberra (L02) arrived in Townsville on Thursday. Canberra will return to her homeport of Fleet Base East next week, stated an Royal Australia Navy release.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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