Another US Warship Challenges China’s Expansive Claim in West Philippine Sea

The United States sent a guided-missile destroyer Sunday to challenge China’s expansive claims to the disputed South China Sea and sailing near Chinese-occupied territories.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation, sailing within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-held territories in the Spratly Islands.

The US Navy’s freedom-of-navigation operations “challenge excessive maritime claims and demonstrate our commitment to uphold the rights, freedoms, and uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law,” a US official told reporters.

“Guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur conducted freedom of navigation operation,” an official told AFP. “Decatur sailed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs in the Spratly Islands.”

The ship is equipped with the MK41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) which fires a combination of up to 90 Standard surface-to-air missiles, Tomahawk surface-to-land missiles, and Vertically Launched Antisubmarine rockets(ASROC) (VLA); the AN/SQQ-89 Antisubmarine Warfare System and the AN/SQQ-28 LAMPS MK III. DECATUR also has deck-mounted Harpoon anti-ship missile launchers and MK 32 torpedo tubes as well as two MK 15 Phalanx Close-in Weapons Systems and a 5-inch 54-cal Mk 45 rapid-firing deck gun.

Allies also conduct freedom of navigation in the said area; the warship HMS Albion, an amphibious assault ship carrying a contingent of UK Royal Marines and one of three Royal Navy surface ships deployed to Asian waters this year, was confronted by the Chinese navy — a frigate and two Chinese helicopters — when it sailed close to Chinese-occupied territories in the Paracel Islands in late August, Reuters reported.

The Chinese navy instructed the British vessel to leave the area, and the situation did not escalate further, the report said.

“HMS Albion exercised her rights for freedom of navigation in full compliance with international law and norms,” a spokesman for the Royal Navy told Reuters.

There was no immediate reaction from China, but a similar US operation in July, involving the disputed Paracel islands, prompted a furious Beijing to deploy military vessels and fighter jets.