The U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday confirmed that Chinese fighter jets recently made an “unsafe” interception of an American spy plane in the Asia-Pacific region.
A pair of JH-7 fighter-bombers, known in NATO parlance as Flounders, from the People’s Liberation Army came within 500 feet of an RC-135 from the U.S. Air Force last week over the Yellow Sea, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.
The incident was confirmed by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook.
“The department is reviewing a report that came in from [U.S. Pacific Command] regarding as you said a Sept. 15 intercept of a U.S. RC-135 by the People’s Republic of China,” he said in response to a question from a reporter during a briefing at the Pentagon.
The incident happened about 80 miles east of the Shandong Peninsula, Cook said.
“One of the maneuvers conducted by the Chinese aircraft in this intercept was perceived as unsafe by the RC-135 aircrew,” he said. “Right now, there’s no indication that this was a near collision.”
There are multiple variants of the RC-135 in the U.S. fleet. The RC-135V/W Rivet Joint is the Air Force’s primary signals intelligence aircraft. It supports theater and national-level personnel with near real-time, on-scene intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination capabilities, according to the Military.com equipment guide.
Pacific Command is headed by Adm. Harry Harris, who last week testified before Congress that the U.S. Navy should sail near China’s manmade islands in the South China Sea.
“I agree that the South China Sea is no more China’s than the Gulf of Mexico is Mexico’s,” Harris said during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I think that we must exercise our freedom of navigation throughout the region and part of our responsibility as Pacific Command commander is to give options to the president and the secretary,” he added, referring to President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. “And those options are being considered and will execute as directed by the president and the secretary.”
The last time the sea service conducted a freedom of navigation operation within a dozen nautical miles of China’s artificial islands in the region was three years ago, according to David Shear, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs at the Pentagon.
Chinese navy ships this month were spotted off the coast of Alaska for the first time. The discovery came the same week China held a massive military parade in Beijing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender during World War II — and highlights its ambition to become a global military power.