Two U.S. B-52 skirt Chinese-controlled man-made island in the South China Sea sparking Chinese protest

Dec 19 2015 - 24 Comments

Two American Stratofortress bombers flew within 12 miles of the disputed islands.

On Dec. 10, two U.S. Air Force B-52 strategic bombers on a routine long-range mission flew within 12 nautical miles (the standard boundary of the territorial waters) of one of the seven Chinese man-made islands in the South China Sea, sparking China’s protests.

Although Washington has not taken an official stance on sovereignty claims surrounding the islands it does maintain that China’s new islands do not enjoy the traditional 12NM territorial limit. However, according to the Pentagon, the aircraft were not flying a so-called “freedom of navigation” mission (a pre-planned navigation used to assert U.S. rights to “innocent passage” in or close to other nation’s territorial waters): one of the aircraft flew within 2 miles of an artificial island along unintentional route. Interesting, since “navigation errors” are a bit surprising on long-range bombers equipped with redundant GPS, INS systems that should make their navigation quite accurate.

Noteworthy, according to the Associated Press, the B-52 strategic bombers and that they issued radio warnings demanding the aircraft leave the area after the intrusion: last month, a Russian Su-24 bomber that allegedly ignored the radio warnings issued by a Turkish Air Force radar station was shot down by a TuAF F-16 after violating the Turkish airspace near the border with Syria.

China’s Defense Ministry considers the U.S. mission in the vicinity of the islands a serious military provocation and a deliberate attempt at raising tensions in the region.

U.S. B-52 and B-2 bombers routinely fly nuclear deterrence missions in the Asia-Pacific theater. In November 2013, a flight of two U.S. B-52 bombers departed from Guam airbase entered the new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over East China Sea close to the disputed islands without complying with any of the rules set by Beijing for the ADIZ. In that case, the mission intentionally skirted the disputed Diaoyu Islands (known as Senkaku islands in Japan).

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

  • CharleyA

    The point is that China cannot construct national territory out of coral reefs in the middle of a sea, thus they cannot enforce a “12 mile territorial limit” or related airspace – unlike the long established border between Turkey and Syria. I have my doubts about the B-52s being somehow off course, but it is possible if the INS was misaligned, or other human errors occurred. I wonder if current air navigation charts show the newly constructed “islands” yet. ADIZs are violated routinely by many nation’s militaries.

    • Marco

      The attitude of commentators is very interesting. Russians fly for few seconds into Turkish airspace due to improper navigation equipment (looking dumb and outdated) or with malicious intentions. On the other hand, US equipment simply CANNOT be wrong, nor the US are flying maliciously. mmm, I have the solution! the island was moving on an interception route toward the B-52s…

      • Jones

        Sure, US equipment can be wrong. It’s on China now to pull a Turkey on US.

        • flires

          The only distinction is that this is not legal Chinese territory – the Turkish border was.

          • sferrin

            Shhhh. Facts aren’t appreciated by some.

        • sferrin

          I almost wish they would. 7 new US airbases in the South Pacific.

      • sferrin

        It’s called, “having a track record”.

      • Bez

        Good point, Marco. It’s typical, western double standards.

        • CharleyA

          Particularly if you are predisposed to perceive it in that manner.

          • Bez

            It is still double standards.

    • sferrin

      My mind would be boggled if B-52s didn’t have onboard GPS and didn’t know EXACTLY where they were. And, unless the world is willing to actually DO something about it, China can (and will) do anything it wants. Like Putin has been doing.

  • sferrin

    As long as they didn’t cross the 12 mile line the only thing they “demonstrated” is the legitimacy of China’s claim they’re sovereign land. If the US wants to ACTUALLY prove they don’t recognize China’s claims they need to fly and sail INSIDE the 12 mile limit.

    • ODM

      Well the article DID say that one of the bombers came within 2 miles of the island, you dolt. Reading comprehension is key to understanding how the world works.

      • sferrin

        You’re absolutely correct. Reading comprehension IS key to understanding how the world works. You should practice yours so you can avoid little faux pas like your post there in the future. That a B-52 passed within 2 miles means little if it’s rapidly followed up by a, “oh, it was an accident, my bad”. In fact it’s worse than if they’d said nothing and stayed outside the 12 mile limit. Why? Because by apologizing it suggests we having something to apologize FOR. This does nothing but reinforce the notion that there is legitimacy to China’s ridiculous claims. In the future you should probably work on seeing the bigger picture rather than fixating on a single data point.

        • BobbyMcFerrin

          Why is everything you post so dumb? You literally just said “it doesnt mean anything if the bombers stay outside the 12 mile limit.”
          Please, please try to read the whole article before commenting, or you’ll just keep looking like an idiot, over and over again.

    • flires

      Absolutely. Obama is weakening the US position as usual.

      • disqus_STXkrV9NGc

        Thanks Obama. Everything perceived as wrong in this world is his fault…

        • sferrin

          Really? And all this time I’ve been told it was George Bush’s fault.

  • sferrin

    “Noteworthy, according to the Associated Press,
    the B-52 strategic bombers and that they issued radio warnings
    demanding the aircraft leave the area after the intrusion: last month, a
    Russian Su-24 bomber that allegedly ignored the radio warnings issued by a Turkish Air Force radar station was shot down by a TuAF F-16 after violating the Turkish airspace near the border with Syria.”

    Apples and oranges. The Su-24 violated sovereign airspace which the airspace around these man-made islands most definitely is not. That said, this is a game of chicken. If we ignore Chinese claims will they then shoot down a US aircraft? If they do will we retaliate? It comes down to who is going to stand firm and we all know it ain’t going to be THIS administration. I have no doubt whatsoever that the Chinese have been watching Putin’s moves in Syria and we will see S-300/HQ-9/WHATEVER sites on those islands just as soon as they can manage it.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I wonder why Greenpeace is not going bonkers over the coral reefs the Chinese are destroying.

    • disqus_STXkrV9NGc

      I think it’s because they have a certain regard for their lives.

    • Andre

      Because the Chinese don’t apologize, or the Russians for that matter. The US just might…

  • Jones

    It’s OK. That B52 was man making US airspace as it went along. China’s just miffed they didn’t thought of it first.

  • Ching-Chen Huang

    U.S. government: To China, Oops…..