By Bijan Razzaghi
The new trade conflict between China and the United States is likely to reverberate in the South China Sea. Currently US Navy Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer’s, and P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft regularly conduct freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. On numerous occasions PLA Air Force aircraft have had unsafe encounters with these aircraft and Chinese warships have also had close encounters with US Navy ships. The reason for the incidents is China recognizes part of the sea as its own territory and an exclusion zone.
With trade tensions at an all time high more close and unsafe encounters with Chinese aircraft are likely to take place. China currently deploys J-11Bs Su-30s and J-10s around the South China Sea theater of operations. China also has deployed the advanced HQ-9 SAM system in the region, which has an effective range of 124 miles and 200 kilometers. There is the potential for China to deploy more air defense systems and anti ship missiles to the region in the wake of the tensions.
Currently US forces have significantly improved their capabilities in the Pacific theater of operations to circumvent these threats, with the deployment of stealth F-35A and F-35Bs to Japan along with the F-22A. These aircraft can be used escort P-8s and EP-3s on freedom of navigation operations if tensions flare up. Currently no incidents or unsafe encounters have been reported.