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USS Lassen to Sail by Disputed Islands: Reports

A U.S. Navy destroyer is just hours away from sailing by China's manmade islands in the South China Sea, according to news reports.

The USS Lassen, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, is already in the area, as we reported over the weekend, and will cruise within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands to challenge China's territorial claims, Reuters and Fox News reported.

Here's what Andrea Shalal and David Brunnstrom, reporters for Reuters, wrote:

"A U.S. defense official said the patrol by the USS Lassen would occur early on Tuesday local time near Subi and Mischief reefs in the Spratly archipelago, features that were formerly submerged at high tide before China began a massive dredging project to turn them into islands in 2014.

The patrols would mark the most serious U.S. challenge yet to the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit China claims around the islands and are certain to anger Beijing, which said last month it would 'never allow any country' to violate its territorial waters and airspace in the Spratlys.

The ship would likely be accompanied by a U.S. Navy P-8A surveillance plane and possibly P-3 surveillance plane, which have been conducting regular surveillance missions in the region, according to the defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity."

The last time the sea service conducted a freedom of navigation operation within a dozen nautical miles of China's artificial islands in the region was three years ago, David Shear, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs at the Pentagon, has said.

The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) in May conducted patrols in international waters near the islands as the People’s Liberation Army-Navy guided-missile frigate Yancheng sailed close behind — but the American ship didn’t come within the 12-mile limit.

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are typically armed with the Standard Missile (SM-2MR), Vertical Launch ASROC missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, MK-46 torpedoes, Close In Weapon System, 5-inch Mk45 Gun, and the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, according to the Military​.com equipment guide.

The P-8A Poseidon is a militarized version of the 737 twin-engine commercial airliner made by Boeing Co. Armed with torpedoes, cruise missiles and mines, and outfitted with sensors, radios, sonobuoy launchers and computer work stations, the aircraft is designed to hunt submarines and surface warfare ships with a nine-person crew. It has a range of 1,200 nautical miles with four hours on station.

Chinese navy ships last month were spotted off the coast of Alaska for the first time. The discovery came the same week China held a massive military parade in Beijing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender during World War II — and highlighted its ambition to become a global military power.

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