U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet deploys to Asia-Pacific
BY DUNCAN MIL
Beijing is using artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea to extend the range of its strategic bomber force. Anti-ship cruise missiles can now threaten U.S. Asia-Pacific region bases.
Beijing claims a vast area of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Beijing has backed its claims with island-building and patrols.
It has built significant military infrastructure on two island chains in the area — the Paracels and the Spratlys — and has deployed H-6 long-range strategic bombers to the atolls.
Washington has responded to heightened tensions with Beijing by sending ships from the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet to beef up the Japan-based Seventh Fleet.
The Third Fleet, based in San Diego, California, traditionally has confined its operations to the eastern side of the Pacific.
The former commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift, has said that the U.S. should widen its presence in East Asia. He argues that the U.S. should use the “total combined power” of the Pacific Fleet to counter China’s behaviour.
The Pacific Fleet is based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and is comprised of 140,000 personnel, over 200 ships and 1,200 aircraft.
The Seventh Fleet consists of an aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Ronald Reagan, 80 other vessels and 140 aircraft. The Third Fleet has more than 100 ships, including four aircraft carriers strike groups.