MANILA, Philippines - One of the most modern submarines in the United States Navy surfaced last Sunday in Subic Bay in Zambales where it is currently deployed to ensure freedom of navigation in the Western Pacific.
The arrival of the Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS North Carolina (SSN-777) came as the Philippines is embroiled in a standoff with China for more than a month now in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, 124 nautical miles from mainland Zambales.
“The crew is proud of our recent contributions as part of our country’s commitment to maintaining freedom of navigation, peace and stability in the region,” said Richard Rhinehart, North Carolina’s commanding officer, in a press statement released by the United States-Pacific Command (USPACOM).
USS Carolina is the fourth submarine in the Virginia class, the Navy’s newest class of submarine and the first ship designed for the post-Cold War environment.
The submarine is designed to operate with stealth, agility and endurance in the world’s littoral regions, as well as the deep oceans.
Unlike the visits of other US vessels in the country, the docking of USS Carolina at Subic bolstered earlier speculations that the US government, while openly declaring that it will not interfere in any territorial dispute in the region, is also closely watching the prevailing standoff between the Philippines and China over ownership of Bajo de Masinloc or “Karburo” to local fishermen.
The Philippines and the US have a Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which requires both parties to come to defend the other in the event of armed aggression.
While Philippine Navy (PN) officials appeared not to be fully aware of the USS Carolina’s presence in Subic, high-level sources said the submarine would be staying at the former US Naval base for re-provisioning and will leave on May 19.
USS Carolina, whose homeport is Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, is 350 feet long and weighs more than 7,800 tons when submerged.
The vessel is one of the stealthiest, most technologically advanced submarines in the world.
“She brings to the region the capability to conduct the full spectrum of potential submarine missions including anti-submarine warfare, naval special warfare involving special operations forces, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and mine warfare,” the USPACOM said in a press statement.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Navy’s flagship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a second-hand Hamilton-class cutter acquired from the US, was pulled from its maritime mission in the West Philippine Sea for maintenance.
But contrary to reports that the frigate’s weapons system bogged down at the height of the standoff in Panatag last week, everything is working, the Navy said.
“It’s just a scheduled maintenance. She underwent preventive maintenance last week,” Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay said of the frigate.