The US Navy launched live–fire missiles in the Philippine Sea last week, in what is seen as a direct message to China. The guided-missile destroyer USS Barry launched a medium-range Standard Missile-2, according to the US Seventh Fleet’s Facebook page. The exercise took place in waters east of the Philippines.
According to the South China Morning Post, the destroyer was accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh which also fired an SM-2 missile. The Post spoke with military analysts who believe the exercise was meant to be a warning to China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Zhou Chenming, a Beijing-based military analyst, said, “The US Navy is worried about Chinese missiles, which China could use as a trump card in a military conflict between the two parties in the region. The Seventh Fleet wants to warn Beijing that it can intercept missiles from China.” The US is worried about a type of missile that the PLA developed in recent years that has a range of 2,500 miles, which puts the US naval base in Guam within its range.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the US continues to run naval exercises in the South China Sea. The US Seventh Fleet conducted Expeditionary Strike Force (ESF) operations in the South China Sea from March 15th-18th. The ESF was carried out by the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, a large fleet of aircraft carriers, destroyers, and amphibious ships.
Since 2015, the US has been running what they call Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) near contested archipelagos in the South China Sea. The latest FONOP took place on March 10th, when the destroyer USS McCampell sailed near the Parcel Islands, a group of islands and reefs that China, Taiwan, and Vietnam all have overlapping claims on.
China called the latest FONOP a “hegemonic act that violates international law, and … threatens the peace and stability of the South China Sea.”