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The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group has kicked off bilateral exercises with the Maritime Self-Defense Force, including one of the largest vessels in Japan’s fleet, in the disputed South China Sea, the U.S. Navy said Tuesday.

The navy, which said the Vinson was on a “regularly scheduled deployment in the Western Pacific,” said the Vinson and the USS Wayne E. Meyer guided-missile destroyer were conducting combined operations with the MSDF’s Ise helicopter destroyer as part of drills aimed at bolstering maritime interoperability between the long-standing allies.

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