USA fast attack submarine USS North Carolina surface in Scarborough Shoal amidst China- Philippines Standoff

US Virginia Class fast attack submarine USS North Carolina (SSN-777)

One of the most modern submarine in the United States (US) Navy, on a current deployment to ensure freedom of navigation in the Western Pacific, surfaced at Subic Bay in Zambales on Sunday.

The arrival of Virginia Class fast attack submarine USS North Carolina (SSN-777) came amid a tense territorial standoff for more than a month now between the Philippines and China in Panatag Shoal, a rock formation 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 Cmdr. 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 with any territorial disputes in the region, is also closely watching the prevailing standoff between the Philippines and the China over the ownership of the the Bajo de Masinloc or "Karburo" to the local fishermen.

The Panatag shoal is called Scarborough and also Huangyan Island by the Chinese.

The Philippines and the US are binded by the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which requires both parties to come to defend any of the party in an event of an armed aggression.

While Philippine Navy (PN) officials appeared not to be fully aware of the USS Carolina presence in Subic, high-level sources said the submarine would be staying at former US Naval base for reprovisioning before leaving 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 advance 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 US Pacific Command (USPACOM) in a press statement said.

US - SSN Virginia Class Cutaway 774 

Relatedly, the Philippine Navy's flagship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a second-hand Hamilton Class Cutter acquired from the US, was pulled out from its maritime mission in the West Philippine Sea to undergo maintenance check.

But contrary to reports that the Frigate's weapons systems 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.

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