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US sent A10 ground attack jets near Scarborough Shoal

The United States has flown four A-10Cs near the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea to demonstrate freedom of navigation and overflight, just as China is preparing to build an outpost there this year.

The United States has flown four A-10Cs near the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea to demonstrate freedom of navigation and overflight, just as China is preparing to build an outpost there this year.

The deployment of the ground-attack aircraft, the first time the Pentagon has deployed them in the South China Sea for freedom of navigation operations, is expected to further stoke tensions in the regional maritime domain.

In addition to the four A-10C Thunderbolt IIs, also known by as “Warthogs”, two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters took off from Clark Air Base on Luzon island on April 19 and flew through international airspace near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, just 230km west of the Philippines, said US Pacific Command in a statement released on Friday.

The contingent of six US aircraft, which remained in the Philippines after joint military drills early this month, conducted their first air and maritime situational awareness flights near disputed territory in the South China Sea.

“Our job is to ensure air and sea domains remain open in accordance with international law. That is extremely important. International economics depends on it — free trade depends on our ability to move goods,” said US Colonel Larry Card, the air contingent commander.

News reports on Monday said China will begin dredging activities at Scarborough Shoal later this year for land reclamation, and may add another airstrip in the South China Sea.

China has overlapping claims with Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan in the South China Sea, and recent efforts by Beijing to create artificial islands with military facilities have sparked alarm in the region.

Officials in Manila are reportedly worried that Beijing may turn the Chinese-held shoal, which is also claimed by Manila and Taipei, into another man-made island.

China seized the reef, which is well within the Philippines’ economic exclusion zone, in a 2012 stand-off. In the event of a crisis, any deployment of missile batteries would put at risk not only the Philippine military, but also US forces in the country. AGENCIES

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