In what was referred to as a freedom of navigation operation, a pair of USAF B-52H bombers flew within 12 miles of China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea. This flight was the latest in a tit-for-tit military responses between China and the U.S. regarding China’s ambitions in the South China Sea.
Flying from Guam, the two bombers took off on November 8th and 9th, transiting to the southwest and over China’s island reclamation projects in the South China Sea. They received constant warnings from Chinese air controllers while approaching the islands, but continued on unphased, completing their missions without incident.
The disclosure of these flights comes soon after the U.S. sent the USS Lassen within China’s claimed 12 mile international border around their islands, and action to which China has responded by deploying J-11 fighters to Woody Island.
I will tell you this, they’re building those artificial islands in the South China Sea and the president won’t — up until recently, wouldn’t sail a ship within 12 miles or fly a plane over it. I’ll tell you this, the first thing I’ll do with the Chinese is I’ll throw — I’ll fly Air Force One over those islands. They’ll know we mean business.
I don’t think the Chinese would have much fear of a modified 747 prowling the borders of their island outposts, but pushing a pair of iconic and very deadly B-52 bombers very near those islands surely sent a strong message. Now China will likely feel a need to respond, and it is uncertain as to what options they will have left to do so. Possibly a flight of Chinese bombers over Guam, perhaps? China’s H-6 bomber fleet has been making unprecedented easterly voyages lately, so this is entirely possible.
You can be almost certain of one thing: once China’s man-made islands are ready to accept fighter aircraft and high-end military hardware, they will be quickly armed to the teeth. When that happens, these types of “freedom of navigation” exercises will become a much more nerve-wracking and riskier affair than they are today.
Contact the author Tyler@Jalopnik.com