A Chinese J-10 fighter jet performed an “unsafe” intercept of a US Navy aircraft on Sunday while it was flying in international airspace over the East China Sea, Pentagon spokesman and Marine Corps Lt. Col. Chris Logan told CNN.
The Chinese fighter jet was armed and came as close as 300 feet in front of the US EP-3 reconnaissance plane, causing the Navy aircraft to take “evasive action,” a US Defense official told CNN. The official added that a second armed J-10 Chinese fighter jet was involved in the intercept but only one of the aircraft acted in a “unsafe” way.
The “EP-3, flying in international airspace in the East China Sea, was intercepted by two Chinese J-10s,” US Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Monday at the Pentagon.
Davis said the “unsafe” behavior involved one of the Chinese fighters flying underneath the US aircraft “at a high rate of speed,” and then slowing and pulling up in front of the US plane, prompting the EP-3’s traffic collision avoidance system to go-off and forcing the American pilot to “to take evasive action to prevent the possibility of collision.”
The intercept took place approximately 80 nautical miles east of the Chinese mainland in international airspace, according to the official.
China maintains an “Air Defense Identification Zone” over much of the East China Sea, something the US does not recognize.
Another US official confirms to CNN that the “unsafe” intercept occurred and said “encounters like this, ones that show a lack of control by the Chinese pilot, do nothing but increase the risk of miscalculation.”
Sunday’s incident follows a series of Chinese intercepts of US aircraft over the last few months.
In May, two Chinese J-10s similarly intercepted a US surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea in what the US Navy described as an “unsafe” maneuver. Earlier that month, a US official told CNN that a Chinese Su-30 jet flew “inverted” over a US Air Force WC-135.
Davis called such unsafe interactions “uncharacteristic.”
“This is uncharacteristic of the normal safe behavior we see from the Chinese military,” Davis said.
The incident comes just days after the Navy’s top officer, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, held a video teleconference with his Chinese counterpart, Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong. The two Naval chiefs discussed “naval engagements” as well as North Korea, according to the US Navy readout.
Perhaps the most famous encounter between a US EP-3 and a Chinese aircraft occurred in 2001 when a Chinese J-8 fighter collided with the US plane, forcing the EP-3 to conduct an emergency and prompting an international dispute between Washington and Beijing.