A Chinese fighter jet intercepted a US reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea last week and performed an “unsafe maneuver,” forcing the US aircraft to take evasive action, according to Indo-Pacific Command, the command responsible for overseeing US military operations in the region.
On December 21, a Chinese Navy J-11 fighter jet flew within 20 feet of the nose of an RC-135 Rivet Joint, a US Air Force reconnaissance plane with about 30 people on board. In response, the RC-135 had to take “evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision,” INDOPACOM said in a statement Thursday.
The RC-135 was in international airspace over the South China Sea and was “lawfully conducting routine operations,” INDOPACOM said.
Video of the incident from INDOPACOM shows the J-11 flying off the nose of the RC-135. As the two aircraft draw closer, a defense official said it is “unlikely” the Chinese jet could have maintained a safe visual separation from the larger, heavier American aircraft, which was maintaining its course and speed. The RC-135 then takes evasive action to avoid a collision, descending away from the Chinese jet.
The majority of aircraft interactions, including those between the US and China, are conducted in a safe and professional manner, the official said. But in cases such as this incident when they are determined to be unsafe, the US responds through diplomatic and military channels through lines of communication with Beijing.
“We intend to do so in this case,” the official said.
China claims much of the South China Sea as part of its territorial waters, including many of the islands in the disputed body of water, some of which Beijing has militarized.
The US does not recognize these territorial claims and routinely conducts operations there, including freedom of navigation operations through the South China Sea.
“The U.S. Indo-Pacific Joint Force is dedicated to a free and open Indo-Pacific region and will continue to fly, sail and operate at sea and in international airspace with due regard for the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law,” the statement said.