In a bold move, the US moved three aircraft carriers and their accompanying strike groups to the Western Pacific, positioning them to control the South China Sea.

On Sunday, the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68) strike groups commenced dual carrier flight operations in the Philippine Sea. While at sea, the strike groups will support air defense drills, sea surveillance, replenishments at sea, defensive air combat training, long-range strikes, coordinated maneuvers, and other exercises.

“This is a great opportunity for us to train together in a complex scenario,” said Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, commander of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 9. “By working together in this environment, we’re improving our tactical skills and readiness in the face of an increasingly pressurized region and COVID-19.”

All three aircraft carriers were hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which left the US with no aircraft carriers in the western Pacific region for more than two months.

Carrier Strike Group 11 consists of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) and guided-missile destroyers of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 9, which includes USS Sterett (DDG 104), USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17.

Carrier Strike Group 9 consists of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) and guided-missile destroyers from Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 23, USS Russell (DDG 59), USS Rafaela Peralta (DDG 115), and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11.

Sunday’s drills were the first dual-carrier operations in the Western Pacific since November 2018 and only the sixth time since 2001 that two carriers operated together in the area. The last time three US carriers were in the region simultaneously was in 2017.

In addition, the Japan-based USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group were also conducting operations in the Philippine Sea, according to photos released by the Pacific Fleet. The area is near Luzon Strait between Taiwan and the Philippines which is the entryway into the South China Sea.

It was reported last month in Chinese media that China’s military is planning carrier operations this summer in the Philippine Sea. Though it is unclear how many carriers will participate in these operations, China is known to have two active aircraft carriers.

China does have the ability to counter the maritime threat posed by the US carrier dominance by using a wide range of weapons designed to sink aircraft carriers, like the medium-range anti-ship ballistic missile DF-21D and the intermediate-range anti-ship ballistic missile DF-26. These missiles can attack medium-sized to large surface vessels from above.

On Tuesday, China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies published its 2020 research report on the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region amid the US’ recent increased military activities near China. The report warned that the possibility of a conflict could substantially increase over the next year.

According to the report, the US has 375,000 enlisted members of its Indo-Pacific Command, including 60 percent of its Navy ships, 55 percent of its Army, and two-thirds of its Marine Corps. In addition, with 85,000 forward-deployed soldiers and a large amount of high-tech and new weaponry, the US military has maintained its absolute supremacy in the Asia-Pacific over the years, while also keeping to seek new deployments, budgets, and resources using China’s and Russia’s military development as excuses.