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PLA Air Force’s risky business laid bare in US intercept collection

The US Department of Defense has declassified 15 recent incidents of risky operational behaviour by the People’s Liberation Army against US aircraft over the East and South China Sea.

The US Department of Defense has declassified 15 recent incidents of risky operational behaviour by the People’s Liberation Army against US aircraft over the East and South China Sea.

The collection of declassified images and videos depicts dangerous manoeuvres including close approaches at high speed, release of flares, and reckless manoeuvres taken by PLA Airforce fighter jets as they intercept US aircraft operating lawfully in international airspace.

The release of the declassified incidents was made ahead of an anticipated US 2023 report on military and security developments involving the People’s Republic of China (China Military Power Report).

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Described by the US DOD as “unsafe, unprofessional, and other behaviours that seek to impinge upon the ability of the United States and other nations to safely conduct operations where international law allows”, the collection includes the following incidents:

  • A PLA fighter crossing in front of US aircraft at a distance of 100 yards, forcing the aircraft to fly through the PLA plane’s wake turbulence over the South China Sea on 11 January 2022.
  • Over the course of five hours, four PLA aircraft conducting an intercept within 75 feet from a US plane over the East China Sea on 29 April 2022.
  • A PLA fighter jet speeding towards a US aircraft, crossing under the plane’s nose and re-approaching at a distance of just 15 feet laterally and 10 feet below the US plane over the East China Sea on 24 May 2022.
  • Four PLA aircraft conducting an intercept within a distance of 40 feet and taking pictures of the US plane over the East China Sea on 8 June 2022.
  • A PLA fighter jet approaching a distance of 40 feet before repeatedly flying above and below a US aircraft and flashing its weapons over the South China Sea on 23 June 2022.
  • A PLA fighter jet flying in front of and within 20 feet of the nose of a US plane, forcing the US aircraft to take evasive manoeuvres to avoid a collision over the South China Sea on 21 December 2022.
  • A PLA fighter jet approaching a distance of 30 feet from a US plane over the South China Sea on 11 January 2023.
  • A PLA fighter jet approaching a distance of 20 feet from a US plane over the South China Sea on 7 February 2023.
  • A PLA fighter jet approaching a distance of 70 feet from a US plane over the South China Sea on 15 February 2023.
  • A PLA fighter jet approaching a distance of 50 feet from a US plane over the East China Sea on 2 March 2023.
  • A PLA fighter jet flying in front of the nose of a US plane, forcing the aircraft to fly through the PLA plane’s wake turbulence over the South China Sea on 25 May 2023.
  • A PLA fighter jet approaching a distance of 25 feet from a US plane over the East China Sea on 11 June 2023.
  • A PLA fighter jet intercepting and deploying eight flares at a distance of 900 feet from a US aircraft on 12 July 2023.
  • A PLA fighter jet closing at a high speed to a distance of just 50 feet underneath the wing of a US aircraft, then conducting a barrel roll around and below the US aircraft, causing the US pilot to perform defensive procedures to prevent a collision on 10 August 2023.
  • A PLA fighter jet approaching a distance of 50 feet from a US plane over the South China Sea on 21 September 2023.

Earlier this week, a Canadian CP-140 Aurora surveillance plane conducting a sanctions enforcement patrol was intercepted by PLA fighter jets. The Chinese aircraft reportedly closed within five metres of the Canadian surveillance aircraft and launched multiple flares while flying close to the Aurora.

People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning laid blame for the most recent incident on Canada.

“The illegal intrusion of a Canadian CP-140 aircraft into the airspace of Chiwei Yu, an affiliated island of China’s Diaoyu Dao, on October 14 seriously violates China’s sovereignty and threatens our national security,” she said, during a regular press conference on 17 October 2023.

“In response to the Canadian side’s provocative act, the Chinese side has lodged démarches and the Chinese military has taken necessary measures at the scene. What happened was that the Canadian side has sent warplanes halfway around the world to stir up trouble and make provocations at China’s doorsteps.

“The Chinese side responded to the situation in accordance with laws and regulations. The Canadian side should respect the facts and stop spreading disinformation.

“In recent years, Canadian military aircraft have frequently conducted close-in reconnaissance and made provocations to the Chinese side in the name of implementing UN Security Council resolutions. What needs to be stressed is that UN Security Council resolutions have never mandated any country to deploy forces and conduct surveillance operations in the airspace or waters under other countries’ jurisdiction in the name of implementing the resolutions.

“China is firmly opposed to any country jeopardising our national sovereignty and security in the name of implementing resolutions. China urges Canada to see the gravity of the incident and refrain from taking any adventurist or provocative moves.”

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