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Carrier Ronald Reagan heads back into the South China Sea

The aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and its strike group returned to the restive South China Sea Friday for a series of maritime air defense operations.

The Japan-based carrier was last in the disputed waters in mid-July when it conducted dual-carrier ops with the carrier Nimitz.

Earlier in July, the carrier strike groups and an Air Force B-52 Stratofortress from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana conducted a maritime integration exercise in the South China Sea.

Training that began Friday also involved the guided-missile cruiser Antietam and the destroyers Mustin and Rafael Peralta, as well as Carrier Air Wing 5.

The units conducted air-to-air operations, combat search and rescue drills and air defense exercises, according to the Navy.

Reagan’s entry into the South China Sea comes at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing and follows an announcement last month that the Trump administration would reject nearly all of China’s maritime claims in the sea.

As China increasingly seeks to claim those waters as its own, the U.S. Navy regularly conducts freedom of navigation operations, or FONOPs, there to reinforce the international status of the sea.

“Operations in the South China Sea continue to demonstrate enduring U.S. commitment to allies and partners and a cooperative approach to regional stability and freedom of the seas,” the sea service said in a release announcing the Reagan’s latest entry into the South China Sea.

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