(RightWing.org) – China’s campaign of intimidation against Taiwan has escalated to aggressive harassment of US military aircraft. In the latest incident, a Chinese fighter flew dangerously close to a US surveillance plane in international airspace. China could be trying to deter American aircraft from patrolling near Taiwan, but so far, it isn’t working.
On May 30, the US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) announced that the previous week, a USAF RC-135 electronic reconnaissance aircraft was patrolling in international airspace over the South China Sea. During the patrol, a Chinese J-16 fighter, a local copy of the 1980s-vintage Russian Su-27 FLANKER, approached the aircraft and flew across its nose, roughly 400 feet away — a distance the US aircraft would cover in less than half a second. The Chinese plane’s approach was so close the RC-135 flew through its wake turbulence.
In a statement, USINDOPACOM slammed the Chinese maneuver as “unnecessarily aggressive” and released a video showing the dangerously close approach — the vibration caused by the fighter’s turbulence is clearly visible. The statement also confirmed that the RC-135 was flying a “safe and routine” mission “in accordance with international law.”
China quickly hit back, claiming the reconnaissance plane had entered one of its training areas and calling on the US to stop making “provocations.” According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning, the RC-135 was “disturbing” an exercise by the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong and its battle group. The J-16 that harassed the plane didn’t come from the carrier — it’s a land-based fighter, and it’s also the usual culprit when China wants to harass other countries’ aircraft around the Taiwan Strait.
It’s reasonably common for China to try to intimidate RC-135s. The aircraft carries advanced electronic intelligence sensors, which can collect signals from Chinese radar and communications systems. That information lets the US develop countermeasures to those systems, and China doesn’t like that. In December, a J-11 — the Chinese navy’s own FLANKER flew close to and missed an RC-135 by just 10 feet, forcing the pilot to take evasive action.
The risks of this harassment are obvious. In 2001 a Chinese fighter collided with a US Navy P-3, which was seriously damaged and had to make an emergency landing in China. If Beijing doesn’t rein in its pilots, another collision is just a matter of time.
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