A US B-52 bomber flew near contested islands in the South China Sea on Monday, according to US Pacific Air Forces, which oversees air operations in the region.
“Two B-52H Stratofortress bombers took off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and participated in routine training missions, March 4, 2019,” according to a statement from US 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 US Navy and alongside our Japanese air force counterparts before returning to Guam,” the statement said.
Both flight operations were part of US Pacific Command’s long-standing “Continuous Bomber Presence” missions, which the military says are intended to maintain the readiness of US forces. Monday’s flights were were conducted in accordance with international law, according to the Air Force.
But while the US routinely sends bombers in the vicinity of the South China Sea, Monday’s flight was the first involving a nuclear-capable B-52 since November.
ABC News was first to report the mission.
The US has rotated B-1, B-52 and B-2 bombers out of Andersen Air Force Base in Guam since 2004 as part of its Continuous Bomber Presence mission.
But Beijing is particularly sensitive about the presence of US military forces near areas where the Chinese government has built islands and established military facilities on disputed maritime features.
In September, a Chinese warship came within 45 yards of the destroyer USS Decatur, forcing the US vessel to maneuver to avoid a collision, and the US Navy labeled China’s actions “unsafe and unprofessional.”
That incident took place while the Decatur was conducting a “Freedom of Navigation Operation,” which involved sailing within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs in the Spratly Islands.
The US has accused China of deploying anti-ship missiles, electronic jammers and surface-to-air missiles to contested islands in the South China Sea.