US warship loaded with F-35s spotted near disputed reef in South China Sea
The US appears to have sailed a warship armed with stealth fighters near a disputed reef in the South China Sea.
Filipino fishermen spotted an "aircraft carrier" launching stealth fighters near the contested Scarborough Shoal, a tiny speck of land in the South China Sea, the local media outlet ABS-CBN reported on April 9, 2019. The video report shows what looks like a US amphibious assault ship, most likely the USS Wasp.
The Wasp "has been training with Philippine Navy ships in Subic Bay and in international waters of the South China Sea … for several days," a US military spokeswoman told The Japan Times, refusing to confirm the Wasp's presence near Scarborough Shoal for "force protection and security" reasons.
Screenshot of the warship spotted by Filipino fishermen.
The Marine Corps told Business Insider that they were aware of the video but were unable to confirm when and where it was taken. It is also unclear how close the vessel in the video was to the shoal.
The ship has been conducting flight operations in the area as part of ongoing Balikatan exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, according to US Pacific Fleet.
The US Navy warship ship sailed into Subic Bay last week with a heavy configuration of 10 F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, significantly more than it normally carries. "We have a lot of capability on this ship," Capt. Jim McGovern, commodore of Amphibious Squadron 11, said of the Wasp, Stars and Stripes reported. The F-35B is a jump jet that has directional engines that allow it take off from and land on short runways.
A US Marine Corps spokesperson told Business Insider that the Wasp has been operating in international waters and Philippine territory during the joint exercises. "Philippine territory" means different things to different countries in the region.
USS Wasp with heavy F-35 configuration in the South China Sea.
China seized Scarborough Shoal, a potential powder keg in the South China Sea, from the Philippines after a tense standoff in 2012. The Philippines took the dispute before an international arbitration tribunal in 2016 and won. Beijing, however, rejected the ruling, as well as the tribunal's authority.
China has not militarized the shoal as it has the Paracels and Spratlys, the other two corners of what is commonly referred to as the "strategic triangle."
The US routinely conducts freedom-of-navigation operations, as well as bomber overflights, in the South China Sea as a challenge to Beijing's sovereignty claims. These operations usually take place in the Paracels and Spratlys.
The last freedom-of-navigation operation near the Scarborough Shoal took place in January 2018, when the US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper sailed within 12 nautical miles of the shoal. China accused the US of violating its sovereignty and security interests.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.