The Navy just concluded the multi-day deployment of two carrier strike groups to the Philippine Sea, a rare move that comes at a sensitive time ahead of an international tribunal’s ruling on territorial claims by China and other nations in the nearby South China Sea.

The USS John C. Stennis and USS Ronald Reagan, both aircraft carriers, and their associated strike groups launched joint operations Saturday, and completed them by Monday afternoon, said Navy Cmdr. Clayton Doss, a service spokesman. The strike groups carried out a variety of training, including air defense drills, defensive air combat training, long-range strikes and sea surveillance, Navy officials said.

Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said Monday in Washington at a conference run by the Center for a New American Security that the Navy does not get to do two-carrier operations very often. He called it a “terrific opportunity for us just to do some high-end warfighting and training.”

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But Richardson also said that the dual-carrier operations should be considered a signal to other nations in the region that the United States is committed to its allies.

“For anyone who wants to destabilize that region, we hope that there is a deterrence message there as well,” he said.

Photographs released by the Navy show the two aircraft carriers within sight of each other, with other ships traveling with them nearby. One images depicts a combined formation of F/A-18 fighters from both strike groups flying together over the Stennis.

The operations come as the United States and its partners raise concerns about China’s expansion in the South China Sea. It has constructed or reclaimed seven islands in the Spratley Islands, and appears to be developing Scarborough Shoal, which it seized in 2012.

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The Philippines took China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague after the seizure of Scarborough Shoal, saying Beijing breached international law. A ruling could come within weeks.

The Stennis strike group has since moved east toward Hawaii, where it is expected to participate in coming days in Rim of the Pacific, an international training exercise that is expected to include 27 countries, including China. The aircraft carrier deployed from Washington state in January, and has spent much of this year in and around the South China Sea. It is traveling with the cruiser USS Mobile Bay and the destroyers USS Stockdale, USS Chung-Hoon and USS William P. Lawrence.

The Reagan strike group deployed from Yokosuka, Japan, on June 4, and remained in the Philippine Sea on Monday, Doss said. Photographs released by the Navy show it has been there and in other waters south of Japan since it left port. It is traveling with the cruisers USS Shiloh and USS Chancellorsville and the destroyers USS Curtis Wilburg, USS McCampbell and USS Benfold.

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Other recent examples in which two carrier strike groups have operated together include September 2014, when the USS George Washington and USS Carl Vinson steamed together in the Western Pacific, and September 2012, when they maneuvered through the South and East China seas. The USS Constellation and USS Carl Vinson also operated together in the South China Sea in 2001, Navy officials said.

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