MANILA, Philippines — In a move likely to irk China, the new U.S. commander of the Pacific Fleet joined a seven-hour surveillance flight over the disputed South China Sea over the weekend on board one of America’s newest spy planes.
Adm. Scott Swift joined the surveillance mission on board a P-8A Poseidon plane on Saturday to witness the aircraft’s full range of capabilities, the U.S. Pacific Fleet said Sunday.
Territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines and several others have flared on and off for years, creating fears that the South China Sea could spark Asia’s next major armed conflict. Beijing has asked the United States to stay out of what it says is a purely Asian dispute, but Washington has said that ensuring freedom of navigation in the disputed waters and the peaceful resolution of the conflicts are in the U.S. national interest.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila had no immediate reaction to the Pacific Fleet commander taking part in the surveillance flight.
The Navy has acquired and plans to purchase more of the versatile P-8A Poseidon aircraft to replace its aging P-3 Orion fleet. The plane can be used for a range of undertakings, including anti-submarine warfare, and surveillance and reconnaissance missions.