And now, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has announced plans to expand the Navy with a range of unmanned and autonomous ships, submarines and aircraft.
The Pentagon chief said a review of US naval power – dubbed Future Forward – presented a “game-changing” plan.
US risks Beijing’s fury with ‘game-change’ plans
The United States has increased its military presence in the region
In the plan, the US maritime fleet would be extended to more than 355 ships compared to the current 293.
On Wednesday, Mr Esper said: “The future fleet will be more balanced in its ability to produce lethal effects from the air, from the sea and under the sea.”
The expansion will include eventually manned, unmanned and autonomous ships and a wide range of onboard unmanned aircraft, the Guardian reported.
Mr Esper added: “These efforts are the next step in realizing our future fleet, in which unmanned systems perform a variety of combat functions, from distributing deadly gunfire and laying mines, to achieving supply or surveillance of the enemy.
READ MORE: South China Sea: US’s biggest warning to China revealed.
Tensions between India and China are increasing
“It will be a major change in the way we wage naval warfare in the years and decades to come.”
The Pentagon chief went on to explain why the South China Sea region is the US military’s “priority theater”.
He said, “Not only is this region important because it is a hub of world trade and commerce, but it is also the epicenter of great power competition with China.
“Even if we stopped building new ships, it would take years for the PRC (People’s Republic of China) to match our capabilities on the high seas.”
South China Sea: US marines “flex” in China during military exercise [REVEAL]
WW3: China sends stern warning after massive US military operation begins [INSIGHT]
South China Sea dispute moves to Mekong amid fears of US domination [COMMENT]
Map of the South China Sea crisis
China has reportedly deployed fighter jets and at least one bomber, the H-6J, to the Paracel Islands.
Since the capture of the Paracels in 1974, China has built military installations on the islands.
Last week, the US Marines conducted a drill in a so-called flex in Beijing.
Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit of the Maritime Raid Force were tasked with dismantling the ship in exercises.
Nations urged to counter China’s dominance
The exercise consisted of two marine reconnaissance platoons and a security element.
These types of operations – known as visit, advice, search and seizure (VBSS) missions – are common practice for the Marine Corps and Navy.
Earlier this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on other countries in the region to counter China’s dominance.
China has built bunkers on some of the atolls
He wrote on Twitter, “US policy is clear: the South China Sea is not China’s maritime empire.
“If Beijing violates international law and free nations do nothing, history shows that the CCP will simply take more territory.
“Disputes in the China Sea must be resolved by international law.”