US B-52H Bomber Joins Philippine Jets for West Philipine Sea Patrol, Irks China

by Braxton Taylor

MANILA  — The United States has sent a nuclear-capable bomber for its first joint patrol with the Philippine military over the West Philippine Sea (WPS), prompting China’s military to send its forces there to monitor that activity.

Three FA-50 light fighters of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) on Monday flew in tandem with a B-52H Stratofortress long-range strategic bomber deployed by the US Pacific Air Forces. The joint flyovers covered 90 nautical miles (166.7 kilometers) west of Candon, Ilocos Sur, and 50 NM (92.6 km) northwest of Lubang, Mindoro, within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the PAF said in a statement.

The B-52s—touted as a long-standing symbol of US military power—have been conducting bomber patrols over the East and South China Seas for decades to demonstrate readiness and commitment to its allies. The B-52s first flew in 1952—which makes it the world’s longest-serving combat aircraft—and has since gone through numerous upgrades and design changes.

The Boeing Company-designed bomber is capable of flying in high subsonic speeds at an altitude of 50,000 feet and has a range covering around 14,000 km.

‘Stirring up trouble’

Monday’s activity was the second phase of the country’s third Maritime Cooperative Activity (MCA) with the United States. The first MCA was held in November last year, followed by a second MCA in January.

Early this month, the Philippine Navy’s BRP Gregorio del Pilar and the US Navy’s USS Gabrielle Giffords held its first phase of the third MCA, with a series of exercises off Mindoro.

China’s military criticized the mission, saying on Tuesday that the Philippines has “stirred up trouble” in the South China Sea by conducting a joint air patrol with “extraterritorial countries” and then publicly “hyping it up.”

The Southern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said it organized front-line naval and air forces on Sunday “to closely monitor the situation and keep [it] under control.”

It also said its troops “remain highly vigilant in resolutely defending national sovereignty, security and maritime rights and firmly safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea region.”

China had also earlier accused the United States of provocation after B-52 bombers flew nearby Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) in 2018.

Stationed in Guam

A senior official of the Philippine military, who was privy to the joint patrol but was not authorized to speak on that matter, told the Inquirer that five aircraft from the PLA Air Force were “monitored within the Philippine air defense identification zone” shadowing the patrol, while a Chinese destroyer was also found northeast of Bajo de Masinloc.

The Stratofortress was part of a Bomber Task Force in Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base intended to support the missions of the US Indo-Pacific Command. The aircraft did not land in the Philippines that Sunday.

The PAF said another B-52H had been on its way to join the patrol but had to return to Guam.

“This cooperative activity aims to bolster cooperation between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and their US counterparts, thereby enhancing interoperability between its air forces,” the PAF said.

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