US Plane Intercepted by Chinese Fighter Jet Over South China Sea

In a recent encounter that has intensified the friction between China and the United States, a Chinese fighter jet audaciously intersected a US aircraft, jeopardizing its crew’s lives. On May 26th, a pilot of a Chinese J-16 fighter executed a needless and excessively hostile maneuver against a US RC-135 surveillance aircraft, as revealed in a United States Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) statement made public on May 30th.

Visual footage of this audacious episode was issued by INDOPACOM, demonstrating the Chinese pilot sharply cutting across the US aircraft’s trajectory, causing the American plane to navigate through the turbulence caused by the smaller aircraft.

This event is an illustration of China’s continuous military aggression in the South China Sea’s international airspace, a strategy aimed at compelling various nations’ military forces to halt surveillance in this strategic region.

“The RC-135 was executing safe, routine operations in international airspace over the South China Sea, fully compliant with international law,” the INDOPACOM statement stressed.

The statement further affirmed, “The United States will persist in its commitment to fly, sail, and operate—safely and responsibly—wherever international law permits. The US Indo-Pacific Joint Force will continue its operations in international airspace, respecting the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law.”

The Chinese communist government and its military branch, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), are notorious for their aggressive approaches against nations performing operations in this area. In response to an aggressive incident in December 2022, Ely Ratner, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, noted that such reckless maneuvers endanger not only the lives of their pilots but also those of the United States.

Ratner expressed concern about PLA’s perilous tactics, such as proximity flying, flare and chaff release, and aggressive aerobatics, during a conversation with the American Enterprise Institute on December 8th. He warned that such provocation could trigger a crisis with far-reaching geopolitical and economic implications.

Ratner further noted that Beijing’s futile attempts to intimidate the United States out of international law-abiding operations are ineffective and highly irresponsible. Instances of PLA aircraft successfully driving US and allied planes out of international airspace by introducing chaff, a metallic countermeasure, into their engines during flight have been reported.

One such case happened in May when an Australian aircraft had to terminate its mission prematurely due to considerable engine damage caused by PLA chaff, placing its crew in immediate danger. Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles decried this episode as excessively dangerous.

After this incident, PLA jets flew within a dangerously close distance of 20 feet of a Canadian surveillance plane, with the Chinese pilots expressing disrespect with a provocative hand gesture. The Canadian aircraft was part of an international effort investigating potentially illegal activities of Chinese vessels supplying oil to North Korean ships at sea in violation of sanctions.

The Canadian authorities reported over 60 such incidents in the first half of 2022 alone. Ratner highlighted this escalating pattern of behavior, particularly in the past year, and expressed grave concern about PLA’s unwillingness to manage these international competitions responsibly. “We consider this a substantial problem,” Ratner concluded.