Navy Carrier Strike Group in South China Sea

Navy leaders have criticized China for "militarizing" the disputed South China Sea

Amid growing tensions between the U.S. and China in the South China Sea, a U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Group is now operating in the area, Navy officials confirmed.

The massive show of U.S. Navy power in the area, involving the aircraft carrier USS Stennis, is merely a routine exercise in areas regularly visited by Navy assets, Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, told Scout Warrior.

"They are currently conducting a routine patrol in the South China Sea. We often send aircraft carriers to the region and are always there. For example, we had a destroyer and a dock landing ship there last week conducting regular operations. South China Sea is a major transit area," Hawkins said.

USS Stennis Carrier Strike Group includes a number of surface ships such as destroyers and cruisers able to protect the carrier and expand the maritime mission capabilities of the service.

While Navy officials say the Carrier Strike Group is not specifically there to address tensions with China in the region, service officials say the service is cleary not unaware of the growing tensions in the area and point out that the service has conducted a number of "Freedom of Navigation" patrols wherein Navy ships sail within the 12-mile limit of artificial island territory claimed by China.

"We're in international waters and we are operating in a manner that is consistent with international law. At this point we just happened to be in the South China Sea. We are going to continue to operate in that area to reassure our allies and ensure we are present," another Navy official told Scout Warrior.

Also, senior Navy and Pentagon leaders, such Pacific Commander Adm. Harry Harris, have accused China of militarizing the South China Sea after revelations that China had placed surface-to-air anti-aircraft weapons on the disupted island areas.

-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@Scout.com

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