- The Washington Times
Friday, September 28, 2018

U.S. Navy and Marine Corps units in the Pacific are carrying out a series of live-fire drills in the hotly contested South China Sea, in a public show of force in the face of ongoing Chinese expansion in the region.

Units attached to the U.S.S. Wasp Amphibious Ready Group and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit executed a series of air and sea-based defensive drills, designed to “improve their proficiency when integrating fires [support]” during potential combat operations in the Pacific.

The South China Sea has long been a flashpoint for tensions between the U.S. and its Pacific allies and China, who have reinforced unilateral territorial claims to the sea’s critical waterways by constructing man-made islands designed to support Chinese warplanes and naval ships. American allies like Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines have repeatedly disputed China’s claims in the region, accusing Beijing of attempting to co-opt the South China Sea through military means.

The exercises conducted by Navy and Marine Corps forces were geared toward defensive operations against possible threats posed to U.S. and allied forces in the South China Sea, according to a Marine Corps statement.

Aboard the U.S.S. Wasp and other Navy vessels attached to the amphibious ready group participated in live fire drills using the .25 and .50 caliber heavy machine guns mounted on the ship’s decks, Marine Corps officials said.

“Marines assigned to Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines expended rounds using Light Armored Vehicles’ M242 Bushmaster 25 mm chain guns and .50 caliber mounted machine guns on Humvees,” officials added.

Navy SH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters also participated in the live-fire exercises, “fully integrating air superiority capability with shipboard-fired weapons,” service officials added.

“The DATF rehearsal demonstrated the full integration of Marine Corps and Navy capabilities showcasing the intensity of joint firepower available to defend Wasp, and our forces, in a wide range of combat situations,” said Col. Robert Brodie, commanding officer of the 31st MEU. “Our ironclad Blue-Green partnership allows us to continuously hone our lethality through training and exercises, in preparation for any operation.”

The drill comes a month after a Pentagon assessment claimed Beijing was actively preparing for possible military strikes against U.S. forces stationed in the Pacific. The Pentagon’s assessment — part of a much larger annual report to Congress looking at China’s military power and geopolitical goals — concludes that China wants to greatly expand its scope of influence in the region and wants to demonstrate to other world powers, especially the U.S., that the capabilities of its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have increased dramatically.

“The PLA may continue to extend its operations beyond the first island chain, demonstrating the capability to strike U.S. and allied forces and military bases in the western Pacific Ocean, including Guam,” the Defense Department analysis said.

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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