South China Sea crisis: US sends drones over disputed waters as Taiwan invasion fears soar

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The move underlines the strategic importance of the waterway, as well as the seriousness with which Washington regards China’s belligerent attitude towards it. The Air Force is flying Global Hawk drone missions from an airbase in Japan called Yokata in a move aimed at boosting US presence in the area. Scott Winship, vice president, Northrop, explained: “Now our processing capability is so fast and we have so much storage that we are meeting that mission.

“Algorithms run fast enough so that if we watch our track, it will dump that data if nothing is happening.

“We only concentrate on the things we want to concentrate on.”

Mr Winship added: “We have finally broken through the barrier of the amount of processing power you can have and get information processing aboard the airplane.

We can hit thousands of targets in one pass

Scott Winship, vice president, Northrop

“We can hit thousands of targets in one pass.”

Additionally, the B-1Bs are flying out of Guam, and conducting specific missions over the South China Sea.

Last month Pacific Air Forces, a Major Command of the United States Air Force, tweeted confirmation that two bombers had completed one such mission.

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The move demonstrated the Air Force’s ability to operate wherever international law permitted “at the time and tempo of our choosing,” Pacific Air Forces added.

Speaking today, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg referenced the region while urging member states to focus on the “resilience of critical infrastructure” against a backdrop of Chinese investment in Europe.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “This is not about a global presence of Nato but it is about the global approach of Nato because China is coming closer to us – we see that in the Arctic, we see they are heavily investing in critical infrastructure in Europe, and we see of course China also operating in cyberspace.

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“So this is not about deploying Nato into the South China Sea but responding to the fact that China is coming closer to us.”

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, a member of the recently formed China Research Group, voiced similar concerns last week.

He told “There are three areas where China is advancing: economically, through the One Belt, One Road initiative, technologically, through its push with Huawei, tying people into that, and then, of course, militarily.

“Ultimately they are creating fortresses across the South China Sea and nobody is challenging them on that, despite international law saying otherwise.

“Once they have got a military presence there they then can use that to expand their own footprint to challenge anybody that comes through.

“It’s getting more and more aggressive – we send ships through occasionally but they are treated with such hostility that you can easily see a minor conflict spiralling out of control.”

Taiwan, which Beijing continues to regard as being part of China, is widely regarded as a particular flashpoint.

Yesterday, Taiwan’s air force warned off several Chinese fighter jets which briefly entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone to its southwest on Tuesday, the defence ministry said.

The Su-30 fighters, some of China’s most advanced jets, were given verbal warnings to leave and Taiwanese air force jets “drove away” the intruders, the ministry added.

Taiwan has complained that China, which claims the democratic island as its own, has stepped up military activities in recent months, menacing Taiwan even as the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic.

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