An F-35C launches from the USS Carl Vinson, which is accompanied by the USS Tulsa in the South China Sea. Navy photo

A carrier strike group led by the San Diego-based USS Carl Vinson is conducting a freedom-of-navigation mission in the disputed South China Sea, the Navy announced Thursday.

The group includes the San Diego-based guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain, Pearl Harbor-based guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee, and San Diego-based littoral combat ship USS Tulsa.   

“The freedom of all nations to navigate in international waters is important, and especially vital in the South China Sea, where nearly a third of global maritime trade transits each year,” said Rear Adm. Dan Martin, commander, of the strike group.

“As we’ve transited the Pacific from San Diego to the South China Sea, we have had the privilege and pleasure to work alongside our allies, partners, and joint service teammates in training, exercises, engagements and operations — all with a common goal to ensure peace and stability throughout the region,” he added.

China has been expanding and fortifying numerous small islands in the area in an effort to extend its territory to cover much of the vital waterway. U.S. warships frequently conduct freedom-of-navigation missions in the area as a show of defiance.

In the month prior to entering the South China Sea, the Vinson and its strike group conducted an exercise with the United Kingdom’s new carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.