Two Chinese J-10 fighter jets intercepted a U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane in international airspace over the East China Sea, the Pentagon said Monday.
The incident occurred late in the Sunday morning in international airspace, about 90 miles south of Qingdao, a Chinese port city north of Shanghai.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said initial reports showed one of the Chinese aircraft came within about 90m to the US plane on Sunday. The Chinese jet flew under the American jet, then suddenly popped up in front, forcing “the EP-3 to take evasive action to avoid collision”, one official said, reported Fox News.
The report added that both Chinese fighters were armed with air-to-air missiles, according to officials.
The encounter was the first incident of its kind since May 24, when two Chinese J-10s intercepted a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion surveillance plane in international airspace over the contested South China Sea. Media reports at the time said that U.S. surveillance plane was in international airspace about 150 miles (240 km) southeast of China’s Hainan Island, home to a sprawling Chinese submarine base. One of the fighters maneuvered within 100 feet of the American plane, the Pentagon said.
Just a week prior to the South China Sea encounter, the U.S. said that two Chinese Su-30 fighter jets had intercepted a U.S. WC-135 Constant Phoenix radiation-detecting plane in international airspace over the Yellow Sea off the Korean Peninsula. In that incident, one of the planes maneuvered with about 150 feet of the American plane, flying inverted above the WC-135, Pentagon officials said.
U.S. military reconnaissance flights near China’s coastline and in the South China Sea have angered Beijing as it seeks to reinforce effective control of much of the strategic waterway, through which $5 trillion in trade passes each year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims in the disputed waterway.
Beijing has blamed the close encounters on U.S. planes and ships that it says frequently conduct surveillance “near Chinese territory.”