An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the “Black Knights” of Strike Fighter Squadron 154 launches from the flight deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt on Wednesday. Navy photo

The San Diego-based USS Theodore Roosevelt and its escorting strike group entered the disputed South China Sea on Saturday on what the Navy described Sunday as a mission “to ensure freedom of the seas.”

The strike group includes the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Russell and USS John Finn, all homeported in San Diego, and Carrier Air Wing 11 from Lemore in Northern California.

The mission near artificial islands claimed by China comes less than a day after that country’s warplanes flew into the airspace of American-ally Taiwan.

“With two-thirds of the world’s trade traveling through this very important region, it is vital that we maintain our presence and continue to promote the rules-based order which has allowed us all to prosper,” said Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, commander of Carrier Strike Group Nine.

While in the South China Sea, according to the Navy, the strike group will conduct maritime security operations, which includes flight operations by fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, maritime strike exercises, and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units.

“We all benefit from free and open access to the seas and our operations represent our commitment to maintaining regional security and stability,” said Capt. Eric Anduze, the Roosevelt’s commanding officer. “I’m incredibly proud of the work and professionalism this crew shows every day operating on the high seas.”

The Roosevelt departed San Diego for a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific region on Dec. 23.

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