The USS West Virginia, a ballistic missile submarine, visited Diego Garcia, a military facility in the Indian Ocean, in October of this year, according to a rare declaration made by the US this week.
According to the release, the US Navy’s ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) was stationed at the site from October 25 to October 31.
According to a statement from the US Strategic Command, the submarine “stopped in Diego Garcia for a brief port visit during an extended deterrence patrol providing security and stability to our Allies.”
The statement said that the submarine surfaced in the Arabian Sea before arriving at the Diego Garcia station and “participated in a combined, US Strategic Command-directed communications exercise to verify emerging and innovative tactics in the Indian Ocean.”
The vessel, one of the 14 Ohio-class SSBNs in the US Navy’s fleet, has a capacity of up to 20 multi-warhead Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
The US Strategic Command noted that the submarine also carried out a full crew exchange in Diego Garcia and a subsequent replenishment at sea, demonstrating the SSBN force’s capability and adaptability to continue on patrol for an extended period of time.
The change occurs as talks between the UK and Mauritius on who will control the Chagos Islands are getting closer. The Chagos Archipelago, also known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) in the UK, contains Diego Garcia.
The archipelago became a part of the UK’s overseas territory in 1965 after being divided from Mauritius, which was then a British colony. Later, the UK forced every resident of the archipelago to leave and leased Diego Garcia to the US for a military base in the Indian Ocean.
In recent years, the conflict over ownership of the islands has gotten more heated.
The UN General Assembly, the UN Tribunal for International Maritime Law, and the International Court of Justice have all ruled with Mauritius in this dispute in recent years. New Delhi has sided with Port Louis and is constructing its own military facility on the island of Agalega in Mauritius.
India, however, also wants the US to maintain its presence on Diego Garcia in light of the growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean. If it can wrest back sovereignty from the UK, New Delhi is thought to have prodded Mauritius to propose to renew the lease of Diego Garcia to the US.
According to certain sources, the island country has already extended a 99-year lease offer to the US.
The US’s current lease of Diego Garcia, obtained illegally from the British, is set to expire in 2036.