The U.S. has flown a B-52 bomber mission near disputed islands in the South China Sea, according to U.S. Pacific Air Forces.
The last reported B-52 mission in the vicinity of the South China Sea was in November.
“Two B-52H Stratofortress bombers took off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and participated in routine training missions, March 4, 2019,” said a statement from the U.S. Pacific Air Forces.
“One bomber conducted training in the vicinity of the South China Sea before returning to Guam, while the other conducted training in the vicinity of Japan in coordination with the U.S. Navy and alongside our Japanese air force counterparts before returning to Guam,” it continued.
The Twitter account Aircraft Spots tracked the flight from Guam to the South China Sea west of the Philippines.
USAF B-52H TOXIN02 departed Andersen AFB, Guam–flew into the South China Sea near the Philippines, now returning to Guam.— Aircraft Spots (@AircraftSpots) March 5, 2019
USAF KC-135R 58-0123 BAKED21 provided tanker support from Kadena AB, Okinawa. pic.twitter.com/dlxmZlCnyz
The B-52 aircraft involved in the mission are part of the U.S. Air Force’s Continuous Bomber Presence (CBP) based in Guam. Since 2004, the U.S. has rotated B-1, B-52 and B-2 long-range bombers out Andersen AFB in Guam to conduct training missions in Asia.
Much like the U.S. Navy's freedom of navigation operations when it sails past two disputed island chains claimed by China in the South China Sea, the Air Force missions are intended to assert that the area is international airspace as well, much to China's chagrin.
In the South China Sea, China claims as its own territory the Paracel Islands as well as seven artificial islands in the Spratly Islands chain. It has militarized both chains and claims sovereignty over the waters and airspace surrounding the islands.
U.S. Pacific Air Forces last confirmed a B-52 mission in the South China Sea on Nov. 20 of last year.
That mission was one of a series of B-52 flights in the region that had taken place in the vicinity of the South China Sea last fall.