US Air Force B-52s ignore Beijing’s ‘great wall’ of missiles with South China Sea flights

Two US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bombers flying over the Pacific Ocean during a routine training mission August 1. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gerald R. Willis
  • The head of US Indo-Pacific Command recently accused China of building a “great wall of SAMs,” or surface-to-air missiles, in the South China Sea.
  • Despite the deployment of Chinese military equipment to the strategic waterway, the US continues to fly and sail through the South China Sea.
  • Two US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bombers reportedly flew past Chinese-occupied territories in the South China Sea on Monday.

Two US heavy long-range bombers tore past Chinese-occupied territories in the contested South China Sea on Monday, demonstrating America’s determination to continue its activities in the region despite China’s militarization of disputed areas.

A pair of US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bombers out of Andersen Air Force Base on Guam conducted a routine training mission in the vicinity of the South China Sea, Pacific Air Forces told CNN on Tuesday, describing the mission as “consistent with international law and United States’ long-standing commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The US military regularly sends bombers through the contested waterway in support of the deterrence-oriented Continuous Bomber Presence mission. China, which claims the majority of the South China Sea, tends to typically react with sharp criticism of US activities, even when the US is simply transiting planes between its bases across the Pacific.

Beijing has previously called these flights “provocative,” accusing the US of militarizing the region, a counter to US accusations.

China has deployed electronic jamming equipment, anti-ship missiles, and surface-to-air missiles, known as SAMs, to military outposts in the South China Sea, allowing China’s People’s Liberation Army to keep US ships and planes in the region under threat of missile fires that outrange them any time they operate in the strategic waterway.

Deployments, according to the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, include HQ-9 SAMs and YJ-12 and YJ-62 anti-ship missiles, among other weapons systems.

Maritime boundary claims in south china sea map
The overlapping maritime claims in the South China Sea. Shayanne Gal/Samantha Lee/Business Insider

“The PLA secretly deployed anti-ship missiles, electronic jammers, and surface-to-air missiles,” Adm. Phil Davidson, the head of US Indo-Pacific Command, said last week at the Halifax International Security Forum.

“So, what was a ‘Great Wall of Sand’ just three years ago is now a ‘Great Wall of SAMs’ in the South China Sea,” he said, stressing that these developments gave China “the potential to exert national control over international waters and airspace through which over $US3 trillion in goods travel every year, along with commercial air traffic, as well as information and financial data through undersea cables.”

China has demonstrated increased resistance to US military activities in the region, especially near Chinese-occupied territories.

A Chinese warship confronted a US Navy destroyer during a routine freedom-of-navigation operation in the Spratly Islands in September. The Chinese naval vessel nearly collided with the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Decatur in an incident widely considered China’s most aggressive response to a US ship to date.

Despite escalated tensions in the South China Sea, the US and Chinese militaries are attempting to restore relations through military exchanges. Following a visit by Chinese military personnel to the USS Ronald Reagan, the aircraft carrier and several of its escort ships made a port call in Hong Kong on Tuesday.