In what is the first visit to Vietnam by an American warship since 1975, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) has arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam for a port visit. The last time American carriers visited Vietnam was during Operation Frequent Wind, an evacuation from Saigon before communist North Vietnamese forces conquered the south.
According to a United States Navy release, the carrier was joined by the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108). While the public story is about how this visit, announced in January by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, reflects the United States and the Hanoi governments putting aside the bitterness of the Vietnam War, the obvious, underlying story here is about sending a message to Communist China.
During Operation Frequent Wind, American naval vessels served as a landing point for many South Vietnamese who were seeking to escape the communists. Numerous planes and helicopters were landed on American carriers and, in many cases, pushed over the side to make room for more escapees.
Those who ran had good reason: The communist regime was responsible for executing at least 65,000 people and sending over 400,000 others to ‘re-education’ camps. Today, there still exists a great deal of repression and local populations, like the Montagnard tribes, have been targeted for genocide by the government.
Meanwhile, the South China Sea has been a major maritime flashpoint, with Communist China having buzzed American planes multiple times in 2017. Before the fall of South Vietnam, the Chinese Communists took the Paracel Islands in a 1974 naval battle. The visit by USS Carl Vinson is a way of sending China a message — but Russia might emerge as the real loser in this exchange.
Vietnam has acquired a number of modern Russian ships, including Gepard-class frigates and Tarantul V-class missile corvettes. Vietnam has also acquired two shore-launched batteries of SS-N-26 Sapless anti-ship missiles. The Vietnamese People’s Air Force also has 46 Su-27/30 Flankers either in hand or on order. All of these Russian systems will be looked at closely as the United States and Vietnam grow closer, giving the U.S. valuable insight into the rival peer’s technology.