The US Air Force has sent B-1 Lancers and stealth bombers to a joint military exercise with their Japanese counterpart in the Sea of Japan amid heightened military tensions with China as both forces step up drills in the region.
Four B-1 Lancers, two B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers and four F-15C Eagles were sent, with the Pacific Air Forces saying in a statement on Tuesday (US time) it “routinely conducts Bomber Task Force operations to show the United States’ commitment to allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility”.
The first pair of B-1s flew from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas and another two B-1s took off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, to the Sea of Japan.
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They conducted a 24-hour long joint-force exercise, beginning on Monday, with four F-15C Eagles from Kadena Air Base, Japan, the US Navy’s USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, F-35 Lightning IIs assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, and F-15J aircraft from Japan’s Air Self-Defence Force.
“Our unique strength as an air force is our ability to generate integrated actions with our joint teammates and allies and partners to challenge competitors in a time and place of our choosing,” said General Ken Wilsbach, Pacific Air Forces commander.
The mission, which is likely to draw Beijing’s ire, came at a time when ramped up tensions between China and the US were further inflamed by frequent military drills and presence in the region, including in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
A joint Seoul-Washington military drill began on Tuesday.
The US Indo-Pacific Command has held continuous bomber presence missions in the region since 2004. Beijing has spoken about US missions in the past, saying it was resolutely opposed to using the banner of freedom of navigation and overflight to flaunt its military force and harm China’s sovereignty and security.
On Sunday, the People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong released footage of a live-fire drill in the disputed South China Sea, a day after the US navy said a strike group led by the USS Ronald Reagan had carried out operations in the area.
Last week, three American B-2 stealth bombers were deployed to the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia on the eve of Chinese live-firing naval exercises north of Taiwan.
More from South China Morning Post:
- US-China relations: American nuclear-capable stealth bombers deployed to Indian Ocean airbase
- South China Sea: Chinese military told not to fire first shot in stand-off with US forces
- South China Sea: the dispute that could start a military conflict
- US-China relations: militaries carry out missile tests as tensions continue to simmer
- South China Sea: Chinese air force steps up combat-readiness drills