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The United States Navy has moved three aircraft carriers and several hundred aircraft into the contested South China Sea for the first time in three years, the Navy reported on June 12. The deployment of the vessels is intended to send a message to China that the U.S. won’t be leaving it to its own devices in the region. China claims the South China Sea as its own, even though it is contested by the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and Brunei. Over the last few months, while the world has been distracted by coronavirus, China has moved to further secure its interests and position of power in the Pacific.

At the same time, the U.S. has struggled to maintain a significant presence in the Pacific, as its naval forces struggled with the pandemic. However, the Navy has now rebounded and is determined to assert itself in the region once more. Its movement has been swift. Three aircraft carriers, the uss Theodore Roosevelt, the uss Nimitz in the Western Pacific and the uss Ronald Regan in the Philippine Sea have all been dispatched. With each vessel carrying at least 60 aircraft and supported by all its forward-deployed attack submarines, destroyers and cruisers, this is the biggest deployment of U.S. vessels in the Pacific since tensions with North Korea were at their peak in 2017. 

The Roosevelt and Nimitz carrier strike groups are scheduled to carry out defense drills and naval exercises in what Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo called “a great opportunity for us to train together in a complex scenario.”