TOKYO -- Japanese Air Self-Defense Force fighters and a U.S. B-52 bomber on Thursday conducted joint military drills over the East China Sea and Sea of Japan, Japan's defense ministry announced on Friday.
It was the first time for the ministry to announce joint military drills involving a B-52 over the East China Sea, where the Senkaku Islands are located.
Japan holds the islands, near the rest of Okinawa Prefecture, but China lays a claim to them.
U.S. B-52 bombers can deliver nuclear payloads. The drills were considered a message to China in that they demonstrated Japan-U.S. cooperation near the Senkakus, which China refers to as the Diaoyu Islands.
The exercises included 16 fighters from the ASDF. Over the East China Sea, one B-52 bomber and four F-15 fighters from Naha Air Base appear to have flown in formation. After that, the fighters appear to have moved to the Sea of Japan. F-2 fighters from Tsuiki Air Base in Fukuoka Prefecture, southwestern Japan, as well as F-15 fighters from Komatsu Air Base in Ishikawa Prefecture and Chitose Air Base in Hokkaido appear to have participated.
It was the second time in a matter of months for the ASDF and U.S. B-52s to hold exercises over the Sea of Japan. Similar drills were held in late July. Thursday's drills were more extensive, covering the East China Sea to the Sea of Japan and involving many fighters from multiple air bases.
Japan's defense ministry rarely reveals joint military drills involving U.S. bombers and ASDF fighters.