A US Navy MQ-4C Triton has been reported as operating over the contested South China Sea (SCS) region, as tensions rise over the sovereignty of several reefs and low lying islands in the region.
A July 16 report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports the SCS Probing Initiative (SCSPI) – a Beijing-based think tank – said the Triton had been operating in the area southeast of Taiwan on July 15, but did not cite the SCSPI’s source of its information.
The report comes after US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo on July 14 described China’s claims to most of the SCS as “completely unlawful”, and as the USAF and US Navy ramped up aerial surveillance in the region with multiple daily flights over the past couple of weeks of RC-135V/W Rivet Joint and EP-3E Aries electronic intelligence (ELINT), P-8A Poseidon maritime reconnaissance, and supporting KC-135 tanker aircraft.
Additionally, two US Navy carrier battle groups (CBG) comprising the USS Ronald Regan and USS Nimitz and several Arleigh Burke class destroyers and Ticonderoga class cruisers have continued to conduct combined manoeuvres in the region for a third week.
“Nimitz and Reagan Carrier Strike Groups are operating in the South China Sea, wherever international law allows, to reinforce our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, a rules based international order, and to our allies and partners in the region,” Nimitz Carrier Strike Group commander, Rear Adm Jim Kirk said in a US Navy release. “Security and stability is essential to peace and prosperity for all nations, and it is for that reason the US Navy has been present and ready in the Pacific for over 75 years.”
The US Navy has two Tritons based at Anderson AFB on Guam as part of an early operational capability (EOC) in support of the US Navy’s 7th fleet operations in the western Pacific region.