07:37 GMT28 July 2021
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    The US flew two B-52 bombers near disputed islands in the South China Sea on Tuesday, according to reports.

    "Two B-52H Stratofortress bombers took off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and participated in routine training missions, March 4, 2019," the US Pacific Air Forces said in a Tuesday statement obtained by ABC News. 

    "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 added. The US Air Force's Continuous Bomber Presence is based in Guam, a US island territory in Micronesia, in the Western Pacific.

    The South China Sea contains many islands, reefs and shoals presently controlled and occupied by the People's Republic of China but also claimed by several other nations, including Vietnam, Taiwan, Cambodia, Brunei and Philippines. Aside from the enormous amount of international sea trade that passes through the area, it is also believed to contain large amounts of as-yet unexplored oil and natural gas deposits.

    Similar to the US Navy's freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, the Air Force missions are conducted to contend that the skies in area are international airspace. 

    Freedom of navigation is codified in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the the Sea among articles that define the rights and responsibilities of nations regarding the use of the world's oceans and marine natural resources. The convention has been in effect since 1994 and currently has more than 165 participating parties.

    The US Pacific Air Forces' last confirmed B-52 mission was on November 20 last year.

    The B-52 Stratofortress is the US Air Forces' largest bomber and serves as part of the United States' "Nuclear Triad" of forward nuclear weapons deployment. The other two arms of the triad are submarine-launched ballistic missiles and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.

    During the Cold War, the Air Force kept nuke-armed B-52s constantly in the air, ready to strike enemies like the Soviet Union or China at a moment's notice if nuclear war broke out.


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