U.S. F/A-18Es performed an airborne change of command in the skies near the disputed South China Sea islands
Airborne change of command U.S. Navy-style over South China Sea.
On Mar 7, revitalizing a time-honored naval tradition, three F/A-18E Super Hornets assigned to the Warhawks of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 97 executed an airborne change of command overhead USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) as Cmdr. Doug Peterson was relieved by Cmdr. Matt Doyle as commanding officer.
As the aircraft carrier was sailing in the South China Sea the three “Rhinos” (as the Super Hornets are dubbed by their aircrews) performed a symbolic formation lead change with Capt. Richard Brophy, Commander, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9, presiding over the transfer of leadership while a flight deck full of Warhawk Sailors and other spectators watched below.
On Mar. 9, the USS John C. Stennis left the South China Sea where it had been dispatched five days earlier for a freedom of navigation exercise.
As reported by NavyTimes.com, with China claiming most of the islands of the region, many experts believe that the aircraft carrier was dispatched in the area to perform a deliberate show of force to emphasize U.S. Navy’s right to operate in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
The Pentagon stated that the Stennis entered the South China Sea twice, while crusing towars and back from joint exercises with South Korea.
Noteworthy, during the transit in the South China Sea the USS John C. Stennis was followed by People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warships which remained in the vicinity of the U.S. Navy carrier.
However according to a U.S. Navy press release the interactions with the Chinese Navy were professional.
Moreover in an effort to reduce tensions in the area the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group (CSG) command ship Blue Ridge will visit China later this spring where 7th Fleet head Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin will hold talks with his counterparts about the chance to increase communication between the two countries to avoid confrontations at sea.
Image credit: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Rodriguez Santiago and Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Tomas Compian / U.S. Navy