Earlier this week, a Chinese fighter jet came within just 10 feet of an American B-52 Stratofortress bomber over the South China Sea, the United States military announced. The incident, which occurred on Tuesday, was described as “unsafe” and “unprofessional.”
“A People’s Republic of China J-11 pilot executed an unsafe intercept of a U.S. Air Force B-52 aircraft, which was lawfully conducting routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace. During the night time intercept, the PRC pilot flew in an unsafe and unprofessional manner, demonstrated poor airmanship by closing with uncontrolled excessive speed, flying below, in front of, and within 10 feet of the B-52, putting both aircraft in danger of collision. We are concerned this pilot was unaware of how close he came to causing a collision,” U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement.
The intercept was conducted at night, “with limited visibility,” and in a manner contrary to international air safety rules and norms, the command added. It further noted that “Military aircraft, when intentionally approaching another, shall operate with professional airmanship and give due regard for the safety of other aircraft.”
Increasing Likelihood of Trouble
The United States Department of Defense warned that this incident represents the latest example of what it described in the 2023 China Military Power Report (CMPR) as “unsafe, unprofessional, and other behaviors that seek to impinge upon the ability of the United States and other nations to safely conduct operations where international law allows.”
The Pentagon has maintained a list of more than 180 such interactions since the fall of 2021.
On October 17, 2023, the DoD released a collection of declassified images and videos depicting a dangerous pattern of coercive and risky operational behavior by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) against U.S. aircraft operating lawfully in international airspace in the East and South China Sea regions.
“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 U.S. presence in the Indo-Pacific because it advances a shared regional vision of peace and security,” the DoD explained.
“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.”
Beijing Increasingly Assertive
China’s Defense Ministry has released its own video, which ministry spokesman Wu Qian said “shows that the U.S. side is the real provoker, risk-taker and disrupter.”
Wu said the deployment of U.S. warships to the region “endanger China’s national security,” while he added China would “take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning also claimed, “U.S. fighter jets coming all the way to flex their muscles at our doorstep is the root cause of aviation and maritime safety risks.”
After a similar incident in May, the Chinese government dismissed American complaints and demanded that Washington end such flights over the South China Sea, the Associated Press reported. Beijing has been increasingly assertive in advancing its claims on most of the South China Sea as its territorial waters, a position rejected by the U.S. and other countries that use the vast expanse of ocean for shipping.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
From the Vault