Chinese fighter carries out ‘unsafe’ interception of American spy plane flying over the hotly contested South China Sea


  • Defense officials say RC-135 was intercepted by Chinese J-10 aircraft
  • Chinese plane was ‘flying at high speed’ and at same altitude as RC-135
  • America carries out regular patrol missions over the South China Sea
  • Chinese officials claim it is their territory and U.S. presence is unwarranted


PUBLISHED: 20:00 EST, 7 June 2016 | UPDATED: 20:11 EST, 7 June 2016

A Chinese fighter jet carried out an ‘unsafe’ intercept of a U.S. reconnaissance plane in the hotly disputed waters of the South China Sea, defense sources said.

A U.S. Air Force RC-135 spy plane was intercepted on Tuesday by a Chinese J-10 fighter jet that was flying at a ‘high rate of speed as it closed in’.

The Chinese aircraft was also flying at the same altitude as the U.S. plane, meaning there was the possibility of a mid-air collision, which is why the maneuver was deemed unsafe.

A RC-135 spy plane (pictured, file image) was carrying out a routine mission over the South China Sea on Tuesday when defense officials say it was intercepted by Chinese planes in an ‘unsafe’ manner

American officials say a Chinese J-10 fighter approached at a ‘high rate of speed’ and at the same altitude as the reconnaissance plane, risking a mid-air collision

It is not known whether the spy plane had to take any evasive action or at what point the J-10 broke off from its maneuver, but officials said it never got closer than 100ft to the U.S. aircraft.

American officials said the RC-135 was taking part in a routine patrol mission when the intercept happened.

The military has been carrying out frequent patrol missions in the South China Sea in recent months as allies in the region attempt to push back on China’s territorial claim over the waters.

Beijing has attempted to seize the ocean territory, which is still legally defined as international waters, by building artificial islands there.

China has then declared the islands, some of which have military installations and runways constructed on top of them, as sovereign territory and has been trying to enforce a military exclusion zone around them.

However, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims and the U.S. has been helping them keep the waters open while international courts rule on the issue.

During a summit at the weekend, Ash Carter reasserted ‘America’s determination to, and resolve to, fly, sail, or operate wherever international law allows.’


The intercept comes just days after John Kerry met with Chinese premiere Xi Jingping and the pair pledged to develop ‘mutual trust’ between the two nations

Ash Carter also spoke about U.S.-Chinese relations during a summit in Singapore over the weekend, reiterating America’s desire to continuing flying and sailing ‘wherever international law allows’

Chinese Admiral Sun Jianguo said the issue had become ‘overheated’ and said China did not fear ‘trouble’ over its territorial disputes. 

However, at a subsequent meeting with John Kerry, Chinese premiere Xi Jingping said that America and China ‘need to increase mutual trust’ to avoid ‘strategic misjudgement’.

This is not the first time in recent weeks that Chinese aircraft have carried out an unsafe intercept on American aircraft.

Back in May, at least two J-11 tactical aircraft carried out another intercept on a U.S. EP-3 reconnaissance plane that was also deemed unsafe.

On this occasion the Chinese planes made it to within 50ft of the American craft, though Beijing denied any of its actions had been dangerous. 

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Categories: Escalation / Destabilization Conflict

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