Pentagon declassifies Data of 15 recent cases of Unsafe Chinese Fighter Intercepts Over Western Pacific

Pentagon declassifies Data of 15 recent cases of Unsafe Chinese Fighter Intercepts Over Western Pacific

By Dario Leone
Oct 19 2023
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Unsafe Chinese Fighter Intercepts.

The Department of Defense released on Oct. 17, 2023 a collection of declassified images and videos depicting 15 recent cases (CLICK HERE for their images and footages) of coercive and risky operational behavior by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) against US aircraft operating lawfully in international airspace in the East and South China Sea regions. Ahead of the anticipated release of the congressionally-mandated 2023 Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, or “China Military Power Report (CMPR),” the images and videos published by the Department underscore key findings in the forthcoming document about an increasing trend of coercive and risky operational behavior by the PLA since the fall of 2021.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and other officials across the Department have previously raised their concerns about this behavior in a range of settings, including during the Secretary’s engagements in 2021 and 2022 with General Wei Fenghe, then-Minister of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as well as the Secretary’s public remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2022 and 2023.

Lawful US air operations

The declassified images and videos were captured during lawful US air operations, during which PLA operators engaged in coercive and risky activities, including reckless maneuvers, close approaches at high speeds in the air, releasing objects and projectiles like flares, and other dangerous behavior.

Adherence to international law

For decades, the United States has flown, sailed, and operated in the region – safely, responsibly, and in accordance with international law. Allies and partners welcome US presence in the Indo-Pacific because it advances a shared regional vision of peace and security. This common vision, which Secretary Austin described at the Shangri-La Dialogue this year, is one of respect for sovereignty; adherence to international law; belief in transparency and openness; freedom of commerce and navigation; equal rights for all states; and the resolution of disputes through peaceful dialogue – not coercion or conquest.

By contrast, the PLA’s coercive and risky behavior seeks to intimidate and coerce members of the international community into giving up their rights under international law.

Jan. 11, 2022

Images newly released by the Department capture a PLA fighter jet in the course of conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating US asset in the South China Sea. The PLA fighter crossed in front of the US aircraft at a distance of 100 yards, forcing the US aircraft to fly through the PLA plane’s wake turbulence.

Apr. 29, 2022

Images and video newly released by the Department capture a PLA fighter jet in the course of conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating U.S. asset in the East China Sea. Over the course of five hours, four PLA aircraft conducted this intercept, at one point reaching a distance of just 75 feet from the US plane.

May 24, 2022

Images and video newly released by the Department capture a PLA fighter jet in the course of conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating US asset in the East China Sea. The PLA fighter jet first sped toward the US asset and crossed under the plane’s nose, causing the US aircraft to lose visual contact of the PLA fighter. After the US pilot opened some distance between the two planes, the PLA pilot re-approached at a distance of just 15 feet laterally and 10 feet below the US plane.

China releases video showing PLANAF J-11 intercepting USAF RC-135V and says the Rivet Joint engaged in dangerous maneuvers against its fighter aircraft
A still from a video released by China in January 2023 showing PLANAF J-11 intercepting USAF RC-135V. The Chinese said the Rivet Joint engaged in dangerous maneuvers against its fighter aircraft

Jun. 8, 2022

Images newly released by the Department capture a PLA fighter jet in the course of conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating US asset in the East China Sea. Over the course of five hours, four PLA aircraft conducted this intercept, including by approaching a distance of just 40 feet and taking pictures of the US plane.

Jun. 23, 2022

Images and video newly released by the Department capture a PLA fighter jet in the course of conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating US asset in the South China Sea, including by approaching a distance of just 40 feet before repeatedly flying above and below the US aircraft and flashing its weapons. After the US operator radioed the PLA fighter jet, the PLA pilot responded using explicit language, including an expletive.

Dec. 21, 2022

A video released by USINDOPACOM in December 2022 captures a PLA fighter jet performing an unsafe maneuver against a lawfully operating US asset in the South China Sea. The PLA operator flew in front of and within 20 feet of the nose of the US plane, forcing the US aircraft to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision.

Jan. 11, 2023

A video newly released by the Department captures a PLA fighter jet in the course of conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating US asset in the South China Sea, including by approaching a distance of just 30 feet from the US plane.

Feb. 7, 2023

A video newly released by the Department captures a PLA fighter jet conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating US asset in the South China Sea, including by approaching a distance of just 20 feet from the US plane.

Feb. 15, 2023

An image and video newly released by the Department capture a PLA fighter jet conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating US asset in the South China Sea, including by approaching a distance of just 70 feet from the US plane.

Mar. 2, 2023

A video newly released by the Department captures a PLA fighter jet conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating US asset in the East China Sea, including by approaching a distance of just 50 feet from the US plane.

May 25, 2023

A video released by USINDOPACOM in May 2023 captures a PLA fighter jet conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating US asset in the South China Sea. The PLA operator flew in front of the nose of the US plane, forcing the US aircraft to fly through the PLA plane’s wake turbulence.

Jun. 11, 2023

A video newly released by the Department captures a PLA fighter jet conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating U.S. asset in the East China Sea, including by approaching a distance of just 25 feet from the US plane.

Chinese Marine Corps releases photo of a group of marines in front of a dismantled US Navy EP-3 Aries II on 20th anniversary of the Hainan Incident
Image released by the Chinese Marine Corps on Apr. 1, 2021 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the so called Hainan Incident. The photso shows group of marines in front of a dismantled US Navy EP-3 Aries II.

Jul. 12, 2023

A video newly released by the Department captures a PLA fighter jet conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating US asset in the East China Sea, including by deploying eight flares at a distance of 900 feet from the US plane.

Aug. 10, 2023

Images newly released by the Department capture a PLA fighter jet performing a coercive and risky maneuver by closing in at a high speed to a distance of just 50 feet underneath the wing of a US aircraft. The PLA operator then conducted a barrel roll around and below the US aircraft, causing the US pilot to perform defensive procedures to prevent a collision.

Sep. 21, 2023

A video newly released by the Department captures a PLA fighter jet conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating US asset in the South China Sea, including by approaching a distance of just 50 feet from the US plane.

300 incidents

“Since the Fall of 2021, we have seen more than 180 such incidents – more in the past two years than in the decade before that. And when you take into account cases of coercive and risky PLA intercepts against other states, the number increases to nearly 300 cases against US, ally and partner aircraft over the last two years,” assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs Ely Ratner said.

Flying much closer since 2001 US Navy EP-3E – Chinese J-8 collision

As reported by USNI News, US Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. John Aquilino said on Oct. 17 that US and Chinese planes have been flying much closer together since a 2001 incident when a US Navy EP-3E Aries II aircraft collided midair with a Chinese J-8 fighter during an intercept over the South China Sea.

People’s lives are at risk

“When you get to unsafe and unprofessional, that’s really concerning behavior. People’s lives are at risk. What we’ve seen since 2001 is a set of actions that have brought airplanes much closer together than are comfortable for those in the cockpit,” Aquilino said. “In other words, flying off my wing at 15 feet for 45 minutes has too much of a chance to lead to an accident. We’ve seen an increase in those close intercepts and activities in very close proximity to our airplanes since the fall of [2021]. A subset of those 180 have been unsafe, unprofessional.”

EP-3E Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. EP-3E Aries II VQ-2 Sandeman, JQ26 / 157320 – “Evelyn”, 1991

Photo credit: U.S. Navy via USNI News


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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