May 27 (UPI) -- The navies of the United States and Singapore conducted a bilateral exercise in the contested South China Sea this week, the U.S. Navy said Wednesday.
The Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords and the Republic of Singapore's Formidable-class multi-role stealth frigate RSS Steadfast were involved in two days of flashing light exercises, maneuvering exercises, large- and small-caliber gun shoots and a photo exercise, the U.S. Navy said. Social distancing protocols, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, were respected.
"This was the first time that Gabrielle Giffords Blue Crew sailed alongside the Singapore Navy at sea, and they demonstrated high tactical proficiency throughout the exercise," said Cmdr. Dustin Lonero, Blue Crew commanding officer, a reference to "Blue" and "Gold" crews which alternate manning the ship. "Working with Steadfast was an excellent learning opportunity and gave us the chance to strengthen bonds, and enhance our mutual maritime professionalism in the shared naval environment."
The armament of the USS Gabrielle Giffords, commissioned in 2017, includes a 57 mm gun. .50-cal. guns, 30 mm Mk44 Bushmaster guns and Hellfire missiles. At 418 feet in length, it is comparable to Singapore's 378-foot long RSS Steadfast, which carries Harpoon SSM anti-ship missiles, MBDA Aster anti-air missiles, EuroTorp torpedoes and 76 mm and 12.7 mm guns.
The exercises took place on Monday and Tuesday in international waters claimed by China, as Chinese President Xi Jinping announced plans for the Chinese military's strengthening of preparations for armed confrontation.
Two U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers "conducted a mission in the South China Sea on May 26 as part of a Bomber Task Force mission, showcasing their ability to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows, at the time and tempo of our choosing," a Twitter message from the Pacific Air Force command of the U.S. Air Force said on Tuesday.