The U.S. Navy on Wednesday said one of its newest warships, the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth, had completed a weeklong patrol in the South China Sea.
The Fort Worth was monitored closely by Chinese warships during the patrol, the Navy said. The South China Sea is the subject of numerous rival — often messy — territorial claims, with China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam disputing sovereignty of several island chains and nearby waters. China on Wednesday cautioned the U.S. against taking any actions that might be considered provocative, according to a report from the state-run Xinhua news service. Tensions in the South China Sea have increased in recent months as China has built facilities on five reclaimed-land sites in the Spratly Islands there, including a 10,000-foot (3,050-meter) airstrip.
James Hardy, editor of Jane’s Asia Pacific, told CNN in February that China was executing “a methodical, well-planned campaign to create a chain of air- and sea-capable fortresses across the center of the Spratly Islands chain.” The U.S. Navy says the Fort Worth and other LCS vessels will be making more frequent visits to the region. “Routine operations like the one Fort Worth just completed in the South China Sea will be the new normal as we welcome four LCSs to the region in the coming years. Deployment of multiple LCSs to Southeast Asia underscores the importance of this ‘region on the rise’ and the value persistent presence brings,” Capt. Fred Kacher, commodore of the Navy’s Destroyer Squadron 7, said in a press release. The LCS, with a draft of between 14 and 15 feet and a speed of 40 knots, was designed to operate in the kind of environment that is reflected in its name, littorals, or shallower coastal areas. The USS Freedom, the first of the LCS vessels, was delivered to the Navy in 2008.