Should President Obama order the U.S. Navy to immediately sail a ship near China’s manmade islands in the South China Sea, the vessel that would likely make the transit is the USS Lassen (DDG 82).
The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer is already in the area and, if directed, would sail within 12 nautical miles of the disputed Spratly Islands as part of a freedom of navigation operation that hasn’t happened since 2012.
The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) in May conducted patrols in international waters near the islands as the People’s Liberation Army-Navy guided-missile frigate Yancheng sailed close behind — but the American ship didn’t come within the 12-mile limit.
Sending the destroyer deliberately within that demarcation would send a message to China that the US doesn’t recognize its territorial claims to the islands, where it has rapidly expanded territory.
Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are typically armed with the Standard Missile (SM-2MR), Vertical Launch ASROC missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, MK-46 torpedoes, Close In Weapon System, 5-inch Mk45 Gun, and the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, according to the Military.com equipment guide.
Chinese navy ships last month were spotted off the coast of Alaska for the first time. The discovery came the same week China held a massive military parade in Beijing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender during World War II — and highlighted its ambition to become a global military power.
A Pentagon official declined to identify the names of the vessels but said they included three combatant ships, one amphibious landing vessel and one replenishment ship. The ships were sailing in international waters in the Bering Sea and at one point reportedly came within 12 nautical miles of the U.S. coast.