American fighter jets were seen in the skies above Guyana on 9 May, as the small South American country navigates a tense border dispute with neighbouring Venezuela.

The sortie involved two Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighters, launched from the aircraft carrier USS George Washington with “collaboration and approval” from the Guyanese government, according to the US embassy in Georgetown.

A photo released by the US embassy shows a pair of fleet grey, twin-engined Super Hornets flying low in close formation over Guyana’s capital city.

The George Washington is in the Latin American region for some two months as the US Navy’s Carrier Strike Group Ten transits to the Pacific, the US Department of State notes.

The US Naval Institute’s fleet tracker placed the carrier just east of Puerto Rico on 6 May – some 780nm (1,440km) from Georgetown on South America’s northern coast.

Described by the state department as a “friendly flyover exercise”, the show of support from Washington comes amid a recent flare up in a decades-old land dispute over Guyana’s oil-rich Essequibo region.

Comprising some two-thirds of Guyanese territory, ownership of the region has been a source of contention with neighbouring Venezuela since Guyana was a British territorial possession in the 20th Century. Caracas claims Essequibo as its own, even going so far as holding a public referendum on the region’s status earlier this year.

Following that vote, Caracas claimed 95% of Venezuelans who cast ballots affirmed their support for establishing Venezuelan sovereignty over Essequibo. Venezuela’s authoritarian president Nicolas Maduro signed a law claiming the territory in April.

Georgetown decried the move as an attempted annexation and “egregious violation” of international law.

US FA-18-Southcom-Flyover-Exercise-in-Guyana-4-1140x684

Source: US Embassy in Guyana

In what it calls a “friendly flyover exercise” conducted in partnership with the Guyanese military the US Department of State says two navy F/A-18 strike fighters from the aircraft carrier USS George Washington

Washington has subsequently stepped up support for the small South American nation, dispatching senior officials to Georgetown and promising military assistance.

US deputy national security advisor Jon Finer in February said US assistance would be “fundamentally defensive in nature and grounded in our desire for Guyana to be able to defend its territorial integrity against any possible threats”.

Washington has pledged to help the Guyanese defence forces acquire new military aircraft, although details of such a deal have yet to emerge.

Georgetown operates a minuscule fleet of three Bell civil helicopters, three light transport aircraft and no fixed-wing fighters, according to Cirium data.

Just a day before the F/A-18 flyover, a senior officer at US Southern Command concluded a three day visit to Guyana where that security assistance was apparently a topic of discussion.

US Marine Corps Major General Julie Nethercot, who oversees strategy and policy at the Pentagon’s Latin America command, met with Guyana’s military chief of staff between 6 and 8 May, according to the US embassy.

Their discussion topics included ongoing security cooperation and “security assistance initiatives to advance technology platforms”, the state department says.