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Flaring flyby: Navy helicopter buzzed by Chinese fighter

HMAS Hobart’s embarked MH-60R helicopter “Voodoo” returns to the ship during flying operations while on a regional presence deployment. Photo: LSIS Matthew Lyall

A Chinese J-10 fighter jet dropped flares just 300 metres in front of a RAN Seahawk on Saturday, forcing the crew to rapidly take evasive action.

A Chinese J-10 fighter jet dropped flares just 300 metres in front of a RAN Seahawk on Saturday, forcing the crew to rapidly take evasive action.

Defence Minister Richard Marles later told 9News that the incident, which took place over international waters in the Yellow Sea, was so serious, it could have put the crew’s lives “in danger”.

The RAN MH-60R was launched from HMAS Hobart as part of Operation Argos, Australia’s contribution to the effort to enforce United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea.


No injuries were sustained by ADF personnel or damaged caused to the MH-60R.

“When you look at the speed at which fighter planes move, at which helicopters move, the reaction time here is measured in a couple of seconds,” said Minister Marles.

“And the consequences of the flare actually making contact with the helicopter could have been deeply significant, would have put lives in danger.

“Our concern is always for the welfare of the men and women who wear our nation’s uniform … serving as Defence Force personnel, and the interactions that were occurring by the PLA Air Force were unacceptable.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese later said he had made “appropriate diplomatic representations” to Beijing over the incident.

“We’ve made it very clear to China that this is unprofessional and that it’s unacceptable,” he told the Today show.

“It’s important that we make clear our position, which has been done at the diplomatic levels, at government to government, but also defence to defence as well.

“It’s important that we speak out when events like this occur.”

The MH-60R Seahawk, also known locally as Romeo, is the dedicated Naval variant of the Black Hawk helicopter.

RAN took delivery of 24 Seahawks between 2016 and 2019, and in May 2022, the federal government placed an order for 12 additional Romeos to replace Navy’s troubled Taipan fleet.

The J-10, meanwhile, known as Vigorous Dragon, is often compared to the F-16 and has delta wings and a fly-by-wire system. The fourth-generation fighter took its maiden flight in 1998.

The news comes two years after a Chinese J-16 cut across the nose of a RAAF P-8 Poseidon over the South China Sea.

Then, the J-16 accelerated so close a “bundle of chaff” was ingested into the Australian aircraft’s engine.

Marles told reporters then that the Chinese J-16 “accelerated and cut across the nose of the P-8, settling in front of the P-8 at very close distance”.

“At that moment, it then released a bundle of chaff, which contains small pieces of aluminium, some of which were ingested into the engine of the P-8aircraft.

“Quite obviously, this is very dangerous.”

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