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Navy's Third Fleet splashes through the South China Sea
When the Navy's supercarrier Carl Vinson slipped out of San Diego nearly two months ago and steamed toward Hawaii, it marked the first time since World War II that the Third Fleet prowled the Pacific Ocean under its own command.
Now sharing the eastern stretches of the Pacific with the Navy's Japan-based Seventh Fleet, Carrier Strike Group One was bisecting the South China Sea Thursday morning, steaming between the Philippines and China.
And so far the "Third Fleet Forward" experiment is going great, according to the group's commander at sea, Rear Adm. James Kilby.
"The Third Fleet Forward concept is working really well," said Kilby during a telephone interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune, the whoosh of jets catapulting off the Vinson's flight deck above him.
"I can't be more proud of the sailors in this strike group and what they're doing," added Kilby, a New Yorker. "They're upbeat. They're positive. And it's going really well."
Kilby takes orders from Vice Adm. Nora Tyson at Third Fleet's Point Loma headquarters. She or her staff monitors the Vinson's movements around the clock. She plans at least two more trips to command the force at sea before it returns to San Diego in the next three months.
The Vinson is accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser Lake Champlain and the guided-missile destroyers Wayne E. Meyer and Michael Murphy.
Kilby's strike group journeys through the South China Sea during a time of rising tensions with Beijing. China continues to build artificial islands on rocks and islets dotting the South China Sea – many of the shoals and reefs contested by other regional allies and partners of the United States, including the Philippines and Vietnam.
"We continue to deploy here and try to send a message to our friends and allies that we're here," said Kilby. "We're providing security. We're providing presence. We want to work with them in exercises and we're certainly doing that on our deployment."
At times, a warship breaks apart from the larger flotilla. For example, the Murphy is steaming to rejoin the carrier after conducting special patrols with U.S. Coast Guard maritime law enforcement teams off Fiji, Nauru, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands to protect the South Pacific nations from illegal fishing.
Later in the summer, a pair of San Diego-based destroyers will join the group in the Western Pacific, beefing up the group as it sails through contested waters.
[Source: By Carl Prine, Contact Reporter, The San Diego Union Tribune, San Diego, 01Mar17]
East China Sea Conflict
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