Instead of tom-toming to the world like earlier deployments, The US Navy has quietly sent an F-35 laden Carrier to the Pacific Ocean recently. US Navy deployed USS Essex, a small deck aircraft carrier with Marine Corps’ F-35Bs onboard to the Western Pacific Ocean, but the defence analysts are intrigued by the US Navy’s hush-hush manner of deployment.
One thing that can be read from the tight-lipped nature of top-notch fighters’ despatch to the ocean is that US Navy means business this time. Instead of browbeating the adversary by publicising such actions, which in the past had little effect on Chinese transgressions in the South China Sea, US instead now wants to assign the more operational role to its forces in the region.
If the previous experience is to go by, US has always hyped the F-35 deployment anywhere in the world, because it shows-off the aircraft as a revolution in aerial combat with its stealthy design, advanced sensors, and controls. When the USS Wasp became the first small deck aircraft carrier to deploy with US Marine Corps F-35Bs, it was all over in the media. But this time the deployment of Jump-Jet Carrier USS Essex bedecked with revolutionary fighters has become known only after its departure, USNI News has noted.
Interestingly US deployments and shuffles of big ships and carriers across the world is treated as a routine news, but the report of these two carriers housing advanced fighters has raised the hackles of media watchdogs everywhere.
This is because F-35 has been the most expensive fighter jet development programme in the history of the world. So expectedly, the fighters cannot be kept away from action for long. Whereas the Marine Corp’s F-35B is designed for vertically take off and landing from short runways, like an amphibious assault ship, (and replaces the AV-8B Harrier in the ground and air attack missions) the Navy’s F-35C has a tailhook to catch an arresting cable and land on an aircraft carrier.
Another conjecture that is being made is a more sober one. The US has recently tried to broker peace with North Korea with the Presidents of the two warring nations holding talks to lessen the mutual animosity. So the US probably does not want to subvert that peace initiative by threatening North Korea with the deployment of high-grade fighter jets.
Earlier US and China have been contesting over unilateral claims by China on the South China Sea. The general method of US has been to send a destroyer in the troubled waters to assert what is known as “freedom of navigation operations in international waters”. China on its part always castigates such actions as a challenge to its sovereignty in the area. Over a time this has begun to appear as a norm which might have emboldened Chinese dispensation a bit.
Now by not publicising the deployment of F-35s USA wants to drive home the point that its deployments in the region may not always be just empty talk. It is prepared to go beyond if things come to that in the future. So naturally with this USA has put the ball back squarely in the Chinese court.
Meanwhile, the US Navy’s aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) is already forward-deployed in the region. Ronald Reagan is the flagship of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 5 and is on patrol in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.