U.S. Navy Drills in South China Sea as Beijing Justifies Blinding Philippine Sailors with Laser

An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter lands aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the South Ch
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin McTaggart/U.S. Navy via AP, file

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps began conducting “integrated expeditionary strike force operations” in the South China Sea on Saturday, five days after a Chinese ship fired a military-grade laser at an unarmed Philippine supply ship, temporarily blinding its crew.

The regime in Beijing defended this outrageous action as “restrained” and “professional” on Monday, suggesting more such attacks are to come.

The U.S. 7th Fleet announced the beginning of military exercises involving the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), and the USS Nimitz carrier strike group (CSG) on Sunday.

The USS Makin Island is a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship or “landing helicopter dock” (LHD), essentially a small aircraft carrier that can launch helicopters and other aircraft that can take off vertically, or require very little runway space. They also carry landing craft needed by Marine units to come ashore in force. LHDs excel at providing rescue and humanitarian assistance as well as combat power.

The Makin Island is the latest of eight ships in its class, and the only one to use an all-electric design, instead of partially relying on steam power.

The Nimitz CSG normally includes three destroyers and two cruisers, but the cruisers are currently detached from the group on other missions.

The 7th Fleet, based in Japan, said the drills began on Saturday but did not specify an end date. The goal of the exercise was to establish “a powerful presence in the region, which supports peace and stability.”

“As a ready response force, we underpin a broad spectrum of missions including landing Marines ashore, humanitarian disaster relief, and deterring potential adversaries through visible and present combat power,” the fleet statement said.

“Official social media pages of the Nimitz CSG, Makin Island ARG and the 13th MEU hinted at the joint exercise last week by continuously posting infographics of their composition throughout the week and tagging each other in the posts,” the U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) noted on Monday.

USNI quoted the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) statement about the laser attack on its ship on February 6, as well as other reprehensible Chinese laser attacks on ships and aircraft, and also a Sunday report from the Japanese Ministry of Defense about a Chinese ship approaching islands claimed by Japan.

In this photo provided by the Philippine Coast Guard, a Chinese Coast Guard ship sails near a Philippine Coast Guard vessel during its patrol at Bajo de Masinloc, 124 nautical miles west of Zambales province, northwestern Philippines on March 2, 2022. The Philippines has sought an explanation from China after a Filipino military commander reported that the Chinese coast guard forcibly seized Chinese rocket debris in the possession of Filipino navy personnel in the disputed South China Sea, officials said Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. (Philippine Coast Guard via AP)

“The US takes no official position on sovereignty in the South China Sea, but maintains that freedom of navigation and overflight must be preserved,” the Associated Press noted when reporting the South China Sea exercises.

The U.S. Navy’s current series of exercises are called Noble Fusion and have included training with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Noble Fusion is focused on developing techniques to “quickly aggregate and seize key terrain at the time and place of our choosing,” as Task Force 76 Operations Officer Cmdr. Jeremy Carlson said last week.

Descriptions of the Noble Fusion exercises provided by participating sailors, pilots, and Marines make it sound a great deal like they are practicing to rapidly neutralize or capture the militarized islands China has been building in disputed waters across the South China Sea region.

“The most powerful tool in the U.S. military is a Navy-USMC cohesive, joint team. We have no doubt that we will execute like this tomorrow should we need to defend ourselves or be asked to help defend allies or partners in the region,” said Task Force 76 Operations Officer Col. Michael Brennan, at roughly the same time China was blasting Philippine sailors in the face with a laser weapon.

Chinese state media on Monday quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin claiming the Chinese Coast Guard and its dodgy “maritime militia” auxiliaries were acting with “professional restraint” when they prevented the Philippines from resupplying soldiers stationed since the 1990s on an island owned by the Philippines.

The regime in Beijing claims the island in question “has been part of Chinese territory since ancient times,” a claim decisively rejected by international courts in 2016.

“We hope that the Philippines can earnestly respect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights in the South China Sea and refrain from taking any actions that may escalate disputes and complicate the situation,” said Wang, suggesting China is prepared to continue using force to consolidate its illegal territorial claims.


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