Wasted! Top 4 Losses of Key US Military Assets in South China Sea Over Two Decades of Posturing

© Photo : Twitter / U.S. NavyFighter jet takes off from the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier amid drills in the South China Sea.
Fighter jet takes off from the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier amid drills in the South China Sea. - Sputnik International, 1920, 29.01.2022
The US military mission in the South China Sea is mainly geared towards countering China's territorial claims in the disputed waters. China too has ramped up its maritime strength in the South China Sea, despite an overt commitment by both parties to avoid militarisation of the western Pacific Ocean.
In 2015, in order to douse ever-growing tensions in the South China Sea, the US and China concluded a series of agreements to prevent a military confrontation.
Yet, the unrelenting buildup of military assets in the region by the US has since rendered those agreements nearly null and void.
Washington's military assertiveness in the South China Sea received a boost last September with the formation of AUKUS - a tripartite alliance with the UK and Australia.
America has also been supported by its allies as the European Union separately firmed up a defence strategy, enhancing its engagement in the vital Indo-Pacific region.
The US operations in the South China Sea, which Washington calls "freedom of navigation" missions frequently lead to near-collision situations between the nations' two militaries, but no shots have been fired so far.
Nevertheless, America has lost several military assets in the resource-rich waters of the region, which are also claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia.

1. F-35 Plunges Into the South China Sea

The nation's most advanced stealth fighter, the F-35C Lightning II, had a landing mishap on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) while conducting routine flight operations in the South China Sea on 24 January.
Armed with highly classified technology, the jet plunged into the sea after the crash. The US Navy said that seven naval personnel, including the pilot, received injuries. With a price tag of around $100 million each, the F-35C is designed to operate from aircraft carriers.
The accident took place during a freedom of navigation operation as the US Navy has deployed two aircraft carriers, two amphibious ships, escorts, and 26 F-35C Lightning II joint strike fighters in the western Pacific Ocean.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson from China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, underlined that this is not the first time the US has had an accident in the South China Sea.

"The US side has yet to give a clear explanation about the reason for its nuclear submarine's collision not long ago, and now comes the carrier-based aircraft's crashing into the South China Sea", Zhao said on 27 January, asking Washington to avoid flexing its muscles in the region.

2. Nuclear-Powered Submarine Collides With Uncharted Seamount

A nuclear-powered attack submarine, the USS Connecticut, was severely damaged after colliding with an uncharted seamount on 2 October 2021.
Media reports claimed severe damage to the forward section of the Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine. At least 11 personnel received injuries in the mishap.

Wang Wenbin, another spokesperson from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said the US should provide an explanation about the vessel's "navigational intentions, the specific location of the accident, whether it was in the exclusive economic zone or territorial waters of any country, and whether it caused any nuclear leak or damage to the ocean environment".

Washington did not provide any further information concerning the accident. The US Navy fired the ship's captain and two other senior officers on the $3-billion submarine for "loss of confidence".

3. Deadly Collision of Two Arleigh Burke-Class Destroyers

In 2017, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain collided with merchant ships in two separate incidents in the Pacific Ocean, leaving 17 sailors dead and several injured.
On 17 June, the $1.8 billion USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship off the coast of Japan during a secret mission to the South China Sea.
Two months later, another destroyer — the USS John S. McCain — smashed into an oil and chemical tanker, killing 10 sailors in the accident.
The collision occurred in the eastern approach to the Singapore Strait on the South China Sea after the destroyer returned from freedom of navigation operations near a Chinese artificial island on Mischief Reef.

4. 2001 Fighter Jet Collision

On 1 April 2001, a US EP-3E reconnaissance aircraft smashed into a Chinese fighter jet in mid-air near Hainan Island. The pilot of the Chinese J-8II jet was killed.
The incident sparked a significant diplomatic standoff between the two countries as China refused to release the 24 US crew members of the damaged jet.
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