Home » Aviation » China Contests Pentagon Account of ‘Unsafe’ Intercept of U.S. Navy Surveillance Plane by PLA Fighters


China Contests Pentagon Account of ‘Unsafe’ Intercept of U.S. Navy Surveillance Plane by PLA Fighters

Chinese J-11 fighter jet is seen flying near a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon about 215 km (135 miles) east of China's Hainan Island. DoD Photo

Chinese J-11 fighter jet is seen flying near a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon about 215 km (135 miles) east of China’s Hainan Island. DoD Photo

China is denying two of their fighters conducted an unsafe intercept of a U.S. Navy signals intelligence aircraft off the coast of Hainan Island.

On Thursday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei disputed accounts that on May 17 two People’s Liberation Army Air Force Shenyang J-11 fighters launched from Hainan Island came within 50 feet of a Navy Lockheed Martin EP-3E Aries II on a surveillance mission in international airspace and forced the Aries II to change altitude to avoid a collision.

“Information from the relevant Chinese authorities shows that what the US said is not true. The U.S. Navy plane EP-3 was then conducting reconnaissance close to China’s Hainan Dao,” Hong said at the briefing.
“In accordance with laws and regulations, the two Chinese military aircraft followed and monitored the U.S. plane from a safe distance without taking any dangerous actions. Their operation was completely in keeping with safety and professional standards.”

On Wednesday, the Pentagon issued a statement that characterized the Tuesday intercept of the routine patrol as “unsafe.”

A Wednesday report from The Associated Press said the J-11s came close enough to the Aries II to quickly dive 200 feet to avoid hitting the Chinese fighters.

The Department of Defense, “is addressing the issue through the appropriate diplomatic and military channels,” according to a statement provided to USNI News.

An EP-3E Aries II signals intelligence aircraft in 2006. US Navy Photo

An EP-3E Aries II signals intelligence aircraft in 2006. US Navy Photo

Pentagon officials indicated the Aries II intercept is a rare exception over more than a year of safe interactions between Chinese and U.S. military aircraft.

“The department has made progress reducing risk between our operational forces and those of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by improved dialogue at multiple levels under the bilateral Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) and the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA),” according to the Thursday statement.
“Over the past year, DoD has seen improvements in PRC actions, flying in a safe and
professional manner.”

In September, two Xian JH-7 fighters conducted a less dramatic intercept of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint with one fighter crossing about 500 feet in front of the nose of the surveillance aircraft in which some reports called a “near collision.”

At the time, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said, “there’s no indication this was a near collision but the report that came back was that the plane operated in an unsafe fashion.”

In 2014 the Department of Defense complained about a more dangerous intercept of a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft by a Chinese J-11.

“The Chinese jet… 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,” said then Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby.

Hainan Island is home to some of China’s most sensitive military installations, including the heart of its attack submarine force.

In 2001, an attempted intercept of an E-P3 Aries by a People’s Liberation Army Navy Shenyang J-8 Finback in the region resulted in the death of the Finback pilot and the Aries making an emergency landing on Hainan Island.

The following is the complete May 19 statement from Chinese spokesman Hong Lei.

Information from the relevant Chinese authorities shows that what the US said is not true. The US Navy plane EP-3 was then conducting reconnaissance close to China’s Hainan Dao. In accordance with laws and regulations, the two Chinese military aircraft followed and monitored the US plane from a safe distance without taking any dangerous actions. Their operation was completely in keeping with safety and professional standards.

It must be pointed out that US military vessels and aircraft frequently carry out reconnaissance in Chinese coastal waters, seriously endangering Chinese maritime and airspace security. We demand that the US immediately cease this type of close reconnaissance and prevent this sort of incident from happening again.

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Categories: Aviation, China, Foreign Forces, News & Analysis, U.S. Navy
Sam LaGrone

About Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He was formerly the U.S. Maritime Correspondent for the Washington D.C. bureau of Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s Navy International. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.

  • El_Sid

    If cars can have dashboard cameras, why not >$100m aircraft? The media is where this kind of cold war is fought.

    • sferrin

      Uhm, because airplanes aren’t cars and slapping a dashcam in the cockpit of a P-3 isn’t going to show you much anyway.

      • El_Sid

        The claim is “The Pentagon says two Chinese fighter jets flew within about 50 feet”. A few GoPros in the windows could catch that. Obviously something more sophisticated than that would be nice (although such a project would end up spending a few $m’s on a Government Underway Camera Capturing Imagery project that ended up selecting the COTS option – a couple of GoPros in the window), my point is that the US is losing the propaganda battle and it would not take very much expenditure to at least discourage the Chinese from doing really stupid stunts. But at times it feels like the US is in denial that there is a propaganda battle, let alone trying to win it.

  • Typhoonq

    How would US going to react if China similarly send their spy planes snooping at the backyard of US mainland. ?

    • Ctrot

      Professionally and in accordance with international law, the same way we did when Soviet aircraft did so during the Cold War.

      • DVader

        Which means we’d watch from a safe distance.

    • Danny Lewis

      Hmmm, I don’t think the Chinese have any aircraft that could fly to the U.S., do a recon flight on our western coastline and then return to China. They would have to refuel quite a few times and as far as I know, the Chinese don’t possess any tankers and if they do they couldn’t reach out coast either. So your question is mute.

      • Donald Carey

        Mute means unable to speak or make a sound, the proper word is moot. (Look it up if you don’t believe me.)

    • sferrin

      Take a look at some of the hundreds, if not thousands, of photos out there of Western fighters escorting Bears, Blackjacks, Backfires, and Badgers, going all the way back to the 50s.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Ooooo, a “nasty nose” — dat not being vewy nice, Banjo.

    You crack me up. I think you’ve gotten your British and American English dictionaries confused there. Bloody nose on opposite sides of the pond mean two entirely different things…

    Out of gratitude for absolutely making my day, here’s one for you:
    Q. How do you break a J-11 pilot’s finger?
    A. Sock him in the nose.

    • DVader

      That’s any fighter pilot, not just a J-11 pilot.

  • Cocidius

    The Soviet era has not passed as proven by the Russian bomber that flew off the coast of California last year on the 4th of July holiday. The US pilots that intercepted that aircraft behaved professionally and appropriately (as always) and did not force the Russian aircraft to dive 200 ft to avoid a collision as occurred in this incident.

    Intelligence gathering OPS are routine all over the world and quite honestly its time for China to grow up.

  • DVader

    I assume we have imagery of the intercept?

  • Ed L

    South China Sea, What does it look like on the map? between Vietnam, Philippines and China they share almost and equal amount of coastline. East China sea, China, Taiwan, Japan. Guess the Chinese are thinking themselves the gods of the middle kingdom. Superior to all, didn’t the Chinese practice slavery for almost 3 thousand years. Do the Red Chinese (us old timers remember that title) want to put those nations in the South China sea under their BOOT.

  • Donald Carey

    China denys the intercept was done in an unsafe manner – and we all know the Chinese are paragons of honesty…. Nothing to see here citizen, move along.