U.S. Sends Bombers Over S. China Sea


B-52s challenge Chinese claims to strategic waterway

The Air Force sent two nuclear-capable bombers over the South China Sea on Wednesday in a show of force challenging China’s expansive maritime claims.

“Two B-52H Stratofortress bombers took off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and conducted routine training in the vicinity of the South China Sea March 13, before returning to base,” Air Force Capt. Victoria Hight, a Pacific Air Forces spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Hight said U.S. aircraft conduct routine operations in the South China Sea to support “allies, partners, and a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

“U.S. Pacific Air Forces bombers have flown from Guam for more than a decade as part of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s continuous bomber presence operations,” she added.

A military official said no Chinese fighters were sent to intercept the bombers. However, a regional air controller radioed the bombers to leave the area and asserted they were not authorized.

An air crew member on the bomber responded by telling the controller, “We’re U.S. Air Force aircraft operating in international airspace,” the official said.

No other details of the mission were released.

It was the second flight of B-52s in the sea this month. Two other bombers, also from Guam, conducted a bomber presence mission on March 4. Prior to that overflight, bombers were over the sea in November.

The bomber mission was first disclosed on Twitter Tuesday night by military flight monitor @AircraftSpots around 11:00 p.m.

The tweet stated that the bombers had just entered the South China Sea and included a map based on the tracking signals. The aircraft were identified by their air control call signs as “Roost 01 and Roost 02.” The bombers were supported with two KC-135 refueling tankers, the tweet stated.

The tracking map showed the bombers entered the sea through the Luzon Strait, the waterway between Taiwan in the north and the Philippine island of Luzon in the south.

The likely flight path showed the bombers heading over the disputed Paracel islands where China has deployed some of its advanced air defense missiles.

China is claiming sovereignty over 90 percent of the South China Sea and over the past decade has built up some 3,200 acres of new islands in the Paracels and further south in the Spratlys.

Despite a promise from Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015 not to militarize the islands, China has done just that.

Beginning in April 2018, advanced anti-ship and air defense missiles have been spotted at several locations in the sea.