A United States Navy EP-3E Aries electronic surveillance plane had a near-collision with a Chinese fighter in the East China Sea. The incident is the latest in a series of close calls between Chinese and American military assets.
According to a report by FoxNews.com, a Chinese Chengdu J-10 “Firebird” fighter armed with air-to-air missiles flew under the EP-3 and pulled up about 300 feet in front of the Navy plane, forcing it to make an evasive maneuver to avoid a collision.
The incident reportedly took place in international airspace, about 90 miles from Qingdao, headquarters of China’s North Sea Fleet.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, the North Sea Fleet includes some of China’s most powerful assets, including a number of the nuclear-powered submarines in service with the People’s Liberation Army Navy. The incident came days after Adm. John Richardson, the Chief of Naval Operations, spoke with his Chinese counterpart about North Korea.
The United States and China have been involved in a number of incidents in recent months. This past May, another pair of J-10s had a close encounter with a Navy P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft, coming within 200 yards of the plane, and making slow turns in front of the plane.
Also in May, the crew of an Air Force OC-135W Constant Phoenix radiation surveillance plane were on the receiving end of a “Top Gun” intercept that the Department of Defense characterized as “unprofessional.” In 2001, a J-8 “Finback” collided with an EP-3E, killing the Chinese pilot, and forcing the EP-3E to make an emergency landing at a Chinese airfield.
The United States has carried out a number of “freedom of navigation” exercises in the region, including a passage within six miles of Mischief Reef. China has threatened to fine ships that do not obey its maritime edicts in the South China Sea, a major maritime flashpoint.
While not as prominently in the news as the South China Sea, the East China Sea is also the location of territorial disputes, notably the Senkaku Islands, which both Japan and China claim.