B-52 Mistakenly Flew Close to Disputed Island Claimed By China

Pentagon Investigating How Mistake Happened

— -- Earlier this week, an American B-52 bomber mistakenly flew within two miles of a disputed artificial island claimed by China in the South China Sea. China has filed a diplomatic complaint with the United States over the incident, which has also drawn the attention of the U.S. military since the aircraft was supposed to fly outside of the 12-mile territorial limit around the island.

A U.S. official told ABC News that two aircraft had left Guam on an overnight roundtrip mission to the Spratly Islands. At least one of the bombers on the mission flew within two miles of Cuarteron Reef, drawing warnings from Chinese military on the artificial island.

“For this mission there was no intention of flying within 12 nautical miles of any feature,” said Commander Bill Urban, a Defense Department spokesman. “This was not a freedom of navigation operation.”

“The Chinese have raised concerns with us about the flight path of a recent training mission,” said Urban. “We are looking into the matter. Beyond that, we will not comment on the substance of our diplomatic exchanges.”

The U.S. conducts freedom of navigation missions near the seven artificial islands that China has built up in the Spratly Island chain that are intended to signal that they are in international waters international waters. Over the last year China has mounted an intensive dredging operation to build up the land area around reefs that in the past

In October, the destroyer USS Lassen sailed within the 12 mile territorial limit around several of those artificial islands. For now American military aircraft have stayed outside of those limits when conducting missions in the region.

The U.S. routinely conducts B-52 training missions throughout the region, including over the South China Sea from Andersen Air Force Base on Guam.

“These missions are designed to maintain readiness and demonstrate our commitment to fly, sail, and operate anywhere allowed under international law,” said Urban.

The incident was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.