Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy said it has deployed its USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier to conduct training operations in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer is joining the 97,000-ton USS Carl Vinson along with aircraft from Carrier Air Wing for the "routine operations" that began Saturday, the U.S. Navy said.
Named by the U.S. Navy as Carrier Strike Group 1, the ships and aircraft conducted training near Hawaii and Guam to "maintain and improve their readiness and develop cohesion as a strike group."
"The training completed over the past few weeks has really brought the team together and improved our effectiveness and readiness as a strike group," U.S. Navy Rear Adm. James Kilby, commander of the strike group, said in a statement. "We are looking forward to demonstrating those capabilities while building upon existing strong relationships with our allies, partners and friends in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region."
The USS Carl Vinson, which first operated in the South China Sea in 1983, was last deployed to the Western-Pacific in 2015 to conduct bilateral exercises with the Malaysian Navy and Malaysian Air Force. The USS Carl Vinson will be under the "command and control" of the U.S. 3rd Fleet while deployed.
Carrier Strike Group 1 is expected to sail near China's artificial islands in the disputed Spratlys, and possibly the Paracel Islands, where China has been building a military presence.
In recent years, while the U.S. Navy suspended operations in the South China Sea as part of former President Barack Obama's policy of caution and avoidance of extra confrontation with Beijing, China began to aggressively build in the Spratly Islands, installing military-grade runways and deploying surface-to-air weaponry, according to satellite images.