More new near-coast combat warships will be deployed by the U.S. Navy in the Indo-Pacific this year as the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden has signaled a return to the "Pivot to Asia" strategy of former president Obama and keeps a wary eye on China's growing navy.
U.S. warships assigned to Asia will lead the ongoing campaign to counter China's growing influence in the region, Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, Commander, Naval Surface Forces for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said at a symposium this week according to Military.com. Chinese naval expansionism is being spearheaded by the People's Liberation Army Navy, he said.
"They're going to be on the front lines," Kitchener said of the new ships.
Among the most modern ships in the Navy, the vessels are known as littoral combat ships (LCS) and are suited to operating at a depth of only four meters, a big plus because of the many shallow-water ports and maritime traffic lanes in the region that impede larger warships.
The U.S. Navy has funding to build 35 littoral combat ships. Of this total, 21 have been commissioned into the Navy and are operational. Four warships will be decommissioned starting 2022, however.
Based at U.S. Fleet Activities Yokosuka in the Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, the fleet commands up to 70 warships.
The U.S. Navy has conducted several freedom of navigation operations near the Chinese-held Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in the past few years as part of a stated policy to keep international ship traffic open and challenge Beijing's claims to much of the area.