A contingent of six U.S. military aircraft that were left behind in the Philippines after the conclusion of joint exercises this month have conducted their first air and maritime situational awareness flights near disputed territory in the South China Sea.

U.S. Pacific Command said in a statement released Friday that four A-10C Thunderbolt IIs, commonly known by the nickname of "warthogs," and two HH-60G Pave Hawks departed from Clark Air Base on Luzon island on Tuesday, flying through international airspace in the vicinity of the disputed Scarborough Shoal, just 230 km west of the Philippines.

"Our job is to ensure air and sea domains remain open in accordance with international law. That is extremely important. International economics depends on it — free trade depends on our ability to move goods," said Col. Larry Card, the air contingent commander.