The U.S. Navy has sent a carrier strike group into the South China Sea, sending quite a bit of boat into the heavily contested waters. In a press release put out by the Navy's 7th Fleet today, it was announced the Nimitz-class USS John S. Stennis, the guided-missile destroyers USS Chung-Hoon and USS Stockdale, the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay, and the supply ship USNS Rainier are all conducting "routine operations" in the South China Sea. The press release didn't fail to mention, however, that Chinese ships have been spotted during these maneuvers. "We have Chinese ships around us that we normally didn't see in my past experience," said Capt. Greg Huffman, Stennis' commanding officer.
The timing of this operation comes just weeks after it was revealed that China had installed surface-to-air missiles and radar installations on some of the artificial islands it has constructed in the South China Sea, further militarizing a zone already fraught with tension.
The heart of the issue continues to be China's claim that its artificial islands, built up over the last five years, give it territorial rights to a major shipping lane in the Pacific Ocean, which sees about $5 trillion dollars worth of merchandise shipped through it each year.
Needless to say, the other major powers in the Pacific-Australia, India, and Japan-aren't happy about this. In October, the USS Lassen skirted within 12 miles of one of China's islands, in a "Freedom of Navigation Operation." And as Tyler Rogoway at Foxtrot Alpha points out, a major naval exercise is planned by India, Japan, and the U.S. this May.
So far, neither side seems to be backing down. If you want a glimpse of what a (still highly unlikely) doomsday scenario might look like, Popular Mechanics contributor Joe Pappalardo gamed out how a shooting war in the Pacific would go down.