Two Chinese fighter jets intercepted a U.S. Navy surveillance plane over the East China Sea at the weekend, with one jet coming within about 300 feet (91 meters) of the American aircraft, U.S. officials said on Monday.
The Chinese J-10 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,” as per the statement by a US defense official. 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 Pentagon said the encounter between the aircraft was unsafe, but added that the vast majority of interactions were safe.
China’s Defence Ministry said the actions of its pilots were “legal, necessary and professional” and performed “in accordance with the law and the rules”.
“Close-in reconnaissance by U.S. aircraft threatens China’s national security, harms Sino-U.S. maritime and air military safety, endangers the personal safety of both sides’ pilots and is the root cause of unexpected incidents,” it said.
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.”
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.