For the crew of the USS Barry (DDG-52) the Taiwan Strait might begin to feel like a second home as the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer conducted its fourth routine transit and entered the South China Sea on Saturday. As with past missions, the U.S. Navy warship was once again conducting maritime security operations to promote peace and stability in the region.
“A continued presence in the South China Sea is vital in maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Cmdr. Chris Gahl, Barry’s commanding officer. “The freedom of all nations to navigate in international waters is critically important. Barry’s transit of the Taiwan Strait yesterday ensured the right and instills the confidence of all nations to trade and communicate in the South China Sea.”
The question now is whether Beijing protests the return of the U.S. Navy vessel as it had done last month when USS Barry conducted a transit of the Taiwan Strait and operated within accordance with international law. While the U.S. Navy maintained that the ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait was to demonstrate Washington’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region, the Chinese government suggested the ship’s very presence undermined peace and stability.
Beijing also said that Chinese troops would remain on high alert to resolutely safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
USS Barry was not alone in the recent transit. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) also conducts regular transits of the straits, as do the navies of Taiwan and Japan. The strait, which is part of the South China Sea connects to the East China Sea to the north. At its narrowest part it is just 130 kilometers (eighty-one miles) wide.
In addition to the military vessels that seem to transit the strait with increasing regularity, it hosts major shipping lanes and is also a major location for commercial fishing.
“It is incredible the number of fishing boats and merchants who pass through and conduct their business in these waters every day,” said Lt. Jordan Brooks, one of Barry’s officers of the deck. “To accomplish our mission safely, effectively and professionally, Barry constantly works as a team and is always alert and communicating.”
Barry is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan and is assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15, the largest U.S. destroyer squadron. It has maintained a constant presence in the South China Sea. This November’s transit marks the fifth time that USS Barry—named after the “Father of the American Navy” Commodore John Barry—had conducted routine operations in the South China Sea.
“This past April, Barry conducted a Freedom of Navigation (FON) operation around the Paracel Islands and then rendezvoused with the USS America expeditionary strike group for operations in the South China Sea,” said Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Baker, Barry’s plans and tactics officer. “Whether operating independently or as a part of a larger group, Barry serves as a highly visible symbol of the overwhelming force the United States can deploy to defeat aggression.”
During the April deployment, the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s South Theatre Command announced that it had “expelled” the warship from the South China Sea and claimed Barry was “illegally” trespassing in China’s territorial waters. The U.S. Navy disputed the claim and said Barry proceeded as planned without encountering any unsafe or unprofessional behavior from Chinese military aircraft or warships.
The warship has maintained a constant presence in the Indo-Pacific, and this year has sailed more than 65,000 nautical miles and participated in eight multi-national exercises and training missions alongside partners from Australia, Canada, Japan and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Most recently, Barry participated in exercise Keen Sword, a biennial exercise designed to enhance Japan-U.S. combat readiness and interoperability while strengthening relationships and demonstrating U.S. resolve to support the security interests of allies and partners in the region.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.