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Why a Chinese J-16 Fighter Came Very Close to An Australian P-8A

J-16D
J-16D. Image Credit: Chinese Military.

The governments of China and Australia are now chirping back and forth following an incident where a Chinese J-16 fighter dangerously confronted an Australian Naval surveillance airplane. The J-16 warplane buzzed the P-8A Poseidon and released chaff and flares that could have severely damaged the Poseidon since its engines sucked in the materials used in combat countermeasures. It happened over the South China Sea in international airspace in late May.  

This Was a Dangerous Incident

The Poseidon had to return to base after the incident. The Australians claimed the Poseidon was flying a routine patrol when it was confronted by the J-16. Defense Minister Richard Marles said on June 6, the Chinese J-16 flew very close to the Australian plane in a threatening manner.

“The J-16 … accelerated and cut across the nose of the P-8, settling in front of the P-8 at very close distance,” Marles told reporters in Melbourne. “At that moment, it then released a bundle of chaff, which contains small pieces of aluminum, some of which were ingested into the engine of the P-8 aircraft. Quite obviously, this is very dangerous.”

Chinese Laser Engaged Against a Poseidon

This is not the first time the Chinese have threatened a P-8A Poseidon. In February of this year, Chinese pilots illuminated the airplane with a military-grade laser, in an action that could have endangered the Australian crew. In 2021, Chinese diplomats released to Australian media a grievance list of 14-things Australia did that China didn’t like, an action that increased tensions.

Now It’s a War of Words

Australia has filed an official diplomatic protest against China for the latest chaff and flare incident. The Chinese have remained indignant and have charged the Australians with unnecessarily upping the rhetoric. 

“We urge Australia to respect China’s national security interests and major concerns, and to be cautious with its words and deeds so as to avoid a miscalculation that could cause serious consequences,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said. The Chinese pilot acted safely and in compliance with international law,” he said.

What Is the J-16?

China’s J-16 warplane could be compared to the F-15 Strike Eagle. It is a multi-role fighter that can fly in all-weather and in both daytime and nighttime conditions. The J-16 was Introduced to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) in 2013. The PLAAF has about 128 J-16s in service. The J-16 is not stealthy, but it is focused on its high maneuverability to intercept enemy airplanes. It has two turbofan engines made in China. The J-16 has a 1,864-mile range and can be refueled in-air. The fighter can be equipped with a full range of air-to-air missiles, plus anti-ship missiles and anti-radiation missiles. It also carries radar-guided and laser-guided bombs.

Will This Affect Peace Between the Two Countries?

Chaff is used in defensive countermeasures in combat situations. This was not a combat confrontation. The Poseidon was simply flying a recon mission and not threatening Chinese air space. These types of misconduct and miscalculations can cause a tragic incident. If the Poseidon would have been destroyed due to engine failure, the crew would have been forced to bail out in the ocean – making rescue difficult. 

Heading for Military-Grade Misunderstanding

This is one of the lowest points of Australian and Chinese relations in memory. China and Australia are going through a period of diplomatic tension that started with poor trade and economic relations and has now spilled over into international security. China has become an adversary rather than just a rival – and is certainly not a peaceful partner with Australia.

Early Test for New Prime Minister 

This is also a test for new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Albanese announced his displeasure after the incident with the J-16 chaff. China relations will be a difficult hurdle for his government. What is the proportional response? Australia will likely continue recon flights in the South China Sea and demand Beijing respect freedom of navigation rights. Defense Minister Marles echoed this commitment. “This incident will not deter Australia from continuing to engage in these activities, which are within our rights and international law.”

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Robert Chin

    June 10, 2022 at 12:09 am

    1)“It happened over the South China Sea in international airspace in late May.”

    Not true. It happened on May 26 over the 200 nm EEZ of China’s Xisha (Paracel) Islands.

    Under the 1945 Potsdam Declaration, signed by the US, UK and China, all territories stolen from China by Japan were returned to China by Japan in October 1945. These included Formosa (Taiwan), Manchuria, the Xisha (Paracel) and Nansha (Spratly) Islands in the South China sea.

    The UN Convention Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) came into force in 1994.

    China and Australia are signatories but the US Senate refused to ratify it so the US military can continue to violate the Provisions of UNCLOS.

    Innocent passage of foreign military jets and warships over the 200 nm EEZ of the Xisha (Paracel) and Nansha (Spratly) Islands is allowed under Article 17 of UNCLOS but the foreign military jets and warships must conform with the regulations of China and are not allowed to conduct military activities “aimed at collecting information to the prejudice of the defence or security of the coastal State” pursuant to Article 19 (2) (C) under Meaning of Innocent Passage.

    The Australian P 8 was flying a spying mission over the 200 nm EEZ of China’s Xisha (Paracel) Islands in violation of Article 19 (2) (C) of UNCLOS.

    China had the right to intercept the Australian P8.

    2) Is China claiming almost all the South China Sea as often claimed by the Western Media?

    No. In 1958 China only declared a 12 nm Territorial Water over the Xisha (Paracel) and Nansha (Spratly) Islands. When UNCLOS came into force in 1994, these islands were granted a 200 nm EEZ each. These two giant 200 nm EEZ bubbles give the effect that China unfairly claimed almost all the South China Sea. That is not true. The two 200 nm EEZ were granted to these islands, pursuant to the provisions of UNCLOS.

    3) “China has become an adversary rather than just a rival – and is certainly not a peaceful partner with Australia.”

    Not true. China is Australia’s biggest trading partner and the biggest buyer of Australian iron ores. These are shipped via the South China Sea without any hindrance whatsoever. Why is Australia provoking its biggest trading partner by spying on China’s territories in the South China Sea?

    4) “Defense Minister Marles echoed this commitment. “This incident will not deter Australia from continuing to engage in these activities, which are within our rights and international law.”

    This newly minted Defense Minister should acquaint himself with the Provisions of UNCLOS, especially Article 19 (2) (C), before he makes a fool of himself.

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