The US Government is planning to send warships around the Spratly islands in the disputed South China Sea.
With the manoeuvres expected to begin in the next two weeks, the ships will sail through a 12-nautical mile zone around the island.
The decision contests Chinese territorial claims to the artificial islands, where China has reportedly begun construction of its first runway.
The move follows the recommendation by US Defense Secretary Ash Carter to take assertive maritime actions, including sending ships and an aircraft within 12nm of the reefs.
The decision reinforces the US stance that considers the disputed area to be situated in international waters and airspace, not recognising the man-made islands as sovereign Chinese territory.
Since 2012, the US has refrained from sending ships through international waters in the South China Sea, particularly in the 12-nautical mile zone of the Spratly islands.
China has been increasing the maritime activities surrounding the South China Sea reclaiming land for the construction of airstrips and other military infrastructure in the last two years.
The US and Chinese defense officials have recently worked out protocols for encounters between ships at sea.
In addition, the countries signed a memorandum on rules for action when aircraft from the two nations fly in close proximity.