USS John S. McCain, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles from Mischief Reef, one of three man-made islands that contain a runway and military fortifications constructed during the past few years.
It's the third time the Pentagon has conducted a "freedom of navigation" challenging China's claims in the region since President Trump took office. Fox News first reported the previous incident in July.
A US Navy P-8 reconnaissance plane flew nearby to monitor Thursday's operation, according to a separate defense official. It did not take part in the operation
USS Dewey, another guided-missile destroyer, sailed by Mischief Reef in May.
12 nautical miles from shore marks the territorial boundary for all nations. Since the U.S. and international community reject China's claim to the island and the surrounding sea, the passage of a U.S. destroyer close by the island amounts to a protest of sort, known as a "freedom of navigation" operation in Pentagon argot.
China has built seven artificial islands in the region in the past few years.
Reuters first reported the Thursday operation.
The warship is named after Sen. John McCain's father and grandfather, both U.S. Navy admirals. The senator visited the warship in Vietnam back in June.
The official said this latest freedom of navigation operation was planned in the past few weeks. They have been occurring roughly each month since May.
China has long protested these operations.
President Trump has been calling on China to do more to rein in North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but with little success.
The Trump administration did manage to get China and Russia's support for a unanimous 15-0 UN Security Council resolution last weekend which aimed to take a billion dollars in exports away from the rogue communist regime.
Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews