The Pentagon has registered its concern with the government of the People’s Republic of China about an aerial confrontation between a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and a Chinese fighter on Aug. 19.
According to Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters that the P-8 was buzzed by a Chinese fighter roughly 135 miles east of Hainan Island in international airspace.
The Pentagon did not identify the type of Chinese fighter that was involved in the incident, but China operated a large variety of combat aircraft include derivatives of the Soviet-designed Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker.
View P-8A Buzzed in a larger map
“We have registered our strong concerns to the Chinese about the unsafe and unprofessional intercept, which posed a risk to the safety and the well-being of the aircrew, and was inconsistent with customary international law,” Kirby said.
Kirby said that the Chinese fighter made multiple passes next to the P-8, sometimes closing to as little as 20-feet away from the lumbering Navy surveillance aircraft.
“They made several passes, three different occasions, crossed under the aircraft with one pass having only 50-100 feet separation,” Kirby said. “The Chinese jet also passed the nose of the P-8 at 90 degrees with its belly toward the P-8 Poseidon, we believe to make a point of showing its weapons load-out.”
Kirby said that the Chinese actions were out of line with international norms.
“This kind of behavior, not only is unprofessional, it’s unsafe,” Kirby said. “It is certainly not keeping with the kind of military-to-military relationship — relations that we’d like to have with — with China.”
Aggressive behaviour from the Chinese military against U.S. intelligence gathering flights is not new. Over a decade ago, a People’s Liberation Army Navy Shenyang J-8 Finback flown by Lt. Commander Wang Wei accidentally rammed a Navy EP-3 Aries electronic surveillance aircraft. The EP-3 was forced to land on Hainan Island, while Wang Wei was killed in the incident.