US and Japanese warships are drilling in the South China Sea in a show of force in China’s backyard


The US Navy’s Ronald Reagan Strike Group conducted drills in the South China Sea Friday with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Escort Flotilla 4 Battle Group, which is led by the Kaga, a helicopter destroyer.

The drills followed US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress heavy long-range bomber flights through the contested region earlier in the week.

China has bolstered its military presence in the region through the deployment of advanced warfighting systems, including jamming technology, anti-ship cruise missiles, and surface-to-air missiles.

With a renewed focus on great power competition, the US military has been showcasing its power in the South China Sea through carrier exercises and bomber overflights.

The US Navy’s Ronald Regan Strike Group and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Escort Flotilla 4 Battle Group conducted joint military exercises in the hotly-contested South China Sea Friday, the US Navy reported in an official press statement.

The drills were a part of a rare tour of the disputed waterway by Japan’s Kaga helicopter carrier, classified as a destroyer, and two guided-missile destroyers — the Inazuma and the Suzutsuki. The Japanese naval force teamed up with the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, and the guided-missile destroyer USS Milius for bilateral training.

The US and Japanese ships practiced formation sailing and maneuvering. “Training with Escort Flotilla 4 was a fantastic opportunity to bring together our strike group with the JMSDF battle group and further the interoperability we have been building for years between our forces,” Rear Adm. Karl O. Thomas, commander of Task Force 70, said in an official statement.