Home Asia Pacific US Navy now staging presence ops near South China Sea standoff

US Navy now staging presence ops near South China Sea standoff

USS Gabrielle Giffords
USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) sailing near the Panamanian flagged drill ship, West Capella, May 12, 2020. Photo: US Navy

After carrying out several patrols near the location of a standoff between China and Malaysia in the South China Sea, the US Navy has now started presence operations in the region.

On May 12, Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) operated near Panamanian flagged drillship, West Capella, marking the second time this month that an LCS patrolled there since USS Montgomery (LCS 8) sailed with USNS Cesar Chavez (T-AKE 14).

The standoff between Malaysia and China, some 200 nautical miles off the coast of East Malaysia, began last year after Malaysia started exploration activities in the mineral-rich region, prompting China to intensify coast guard and maritime militia patrols.

In late April, amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) and USS Barry (DDG 52) sailed together with the Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Parramatta (FFH 154), staged operations in the disputed area.

“The versatility and flexibility of Independence-variant littoral combat ships rotationally deployed to Southeast Asia is a game changer,” said Rear Adm. Fred Kacher, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 7. “Like Montgomery’s previous operations, Gabrielle Giffords’ operations near West Capella demonstrate the depth of capability the US Navy has available in the region.”

Commander, US 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Bill Merz reaffirmed that the US Navy would fly, sail and operate in the South China Sea wherever international law permits at any time.

“Routine presence operations, like Gabrielle Giffords’, reaffirms the US will continue to fly and sail freely, in accordance with international law and maritime norms, regardless of excessive claims or current events,” said Merz. “The US supports the efforts of our allies and partners in the lawful pursuit of their economic interests.”