China had a show of force in late March in the South China Sea with a live fire exercise conducted by their carrier Liaoning supported by an armada of 40 ships.
The US is responding with the sortie of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. There are in fact three US carriers in the vicinity (SCS and West Pac): Roosevelt, Vinson and Reagan. I understand that there’s a possibility of a 3 carrier exercise in the near future as another show of force.
The US policy in the South China Sea is expected to become very assertive and muscular with President Trump at the helm supported by DOD Sec Mattis, State Sec Pompeo and new NSA Bolton who are all known as hawkish.
This means that the PACOM’s long desire to have more FONOPs in the SCS will have White House, Pentagon and State support.
In addition to the US carriers, a new player is the USS Essex, the amphibious assault ship of the US Navy based in the Western Pacific out of Japan. The Essex now carries the F-35Bs, the Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35 Lightning II.
The F-35B is considered a game changer and is even feared by North Korea because of its supersonic and stealth capability. There is a squadron of F-35Bs stationed in Japan operated by the US Marines.
BEIJING (REUTERS) April 12, 2018 - President Xi Jinping presided over the Chinese navy's largest-ever military display on Thursday, state media reported, the country's latest show of force in the disputed South China Sea.
State broadcaster China Central Television showed footage of Xi boarding the destroyer Changsha before sailing to an unspecified location in the South China Sea and watching the procession, which involved more than 10,000 naval officers, 76 fighter jets, and a flotilla of 48 warships and submarines.
On the other hand, China has announced that their domestic built carrier, their second, will undergo sea trials a few weeks from now.
Meantime the US announced that China now has the capability to jam and block radars and communications facilities of other powers through their facilities in Mischief Reef, Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef.
These shows of force and counter shows of force may result in miscalculation. But it can also prevent conflict when one side is convinced that the other side has a preponderance of force and it would not be prudent to initiate conflict.