Strategic Alliances in the South China Sea: U.S., Australia and France Bolster Maritime Security through Trilateral Operations


On April 9, in a significant demonstration of international cooperation and maritime prowess, the U.S. Navy, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), and the French Navy (FN) conducted trilateral operations in the contentious waters of the South China Sea. This strategic maneuver involved the participation of three key naval assets: the U.S. Navy’s Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Mobile (LCS 26), the RAN’s Anzac-class frigate HMAS Warramunga (FFH 152), and the French Navy’s Floréal-class frigate FS Vendémiaire (F 734).

Captain Justin Harts, Commander of Destroyer Squadron 15, highlighted the significance of this exercise, stating, “This exercise is marked by collaboration, camaraderie, and a shared commitment to maritime security. Sailing alongside our partners and allies provides invaluable experience gained, forging bonds that strengthen our resolve and deepen our shared understanding of the Indo-Pacific.”

The exercise underscored the regular engagement of the U.S. Navy with its allies and partners in the region as a testament to their collective dedication to maintaining a rules-based international order. Such operations are not only pivotal in terms of strategic military positioning but also serve as a crucial diplomatic gesture affirming the commitment of these nations to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

Commander Sébastien Drouelle, commanding officer of the FS Vendémiaire, articulated the French perspective on these joint operations: “During its deployments in the Pacific, the French Navy seizes opportunities to operate alongside other maritime forces in the region as it is committed to multilateralism. This exercise with the US Navy and RAN is seen as another occasion to foster coordination and cooperation in combined activities. With such an exercise, led in the framework of freedom of navigation and international laws, we will mutually benefit from one another and strengthen interoperability at sea with our allies and partners in this region.”

From the Australian viewpoint, Commodore Jonathan Ley, Australia’s Joint Force Maritime Component Commander, emphasized the continuous presence of the Australian Defence Force in the Indo-Pacific. He noted, “The Australian Defence Force’s near continuous presence in the Indo-Pacific demonstrates our resolve for a peaceful, secure, and prosperous region. Opportunities such as this to operate with allies and partners while in the region enhance our ability to respond cooperatively to shared security challenges and humanitarian crises.”

These trilateral operations are part of broader strategic efforts by the U.S., Australia, and France to enhance their tactical interoperability. This not only prepares them for potential conflicts or humanitarian missions but also serves as a deterrent to aggressive actions by other regional powers that might challenge the status quo of free navigation and international law.

Commander, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, plays a critical role in this dynamic, being the U.S. 7th Fleet’s principal surface force. It is responsible for the readiness, tactical, and administrative responsibilities for forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers as well as any surface unit conducting independent operations in the region.

The U.S. 7th Fleet, known as the largest forward-deployed numbered fleet of the U.S. Navy, routinely interacts and operates with allies and partners to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific region. These operations are crucial for maintaining strategic balance and ensuring that the maritime pathways, which are vital for global trade, remain open and free from unilateral aggressive postures.

The strategic significance of these trilateral exercises cannot be overstated. They not only reinforce the bonds between the participating nations but also send a clear message to the international community about their firm stance on upholding maritime laws and ensuring a stable, secure maritime environment. This collaborative approach is essential for addressing the complex security challenges that face the Indo-Pacific region and for promoting an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation among the maritime powers of the world.

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