A Shenyang J-16 fighter of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has conducted a dangerous intercept of a Boeing P-8A Poseidon of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
The incident occurred on 26 May while the RAAF jet conducted a routine patrol in international airspace over the South China Sea.
“The intercept resulted in a dangerous manoeuvre which posed a safety threat to the P-8 aircraft and its crew,” says Australia’s Department of Defence.
“The Australian Government has raised its concerns about the incident with the Chinese Government.”
According to a 9 News television report, the J-16 flew close alongside the P-8A and released flares. It then flew directly in front of the RAAF aircraft – a variant of 737 airliner – and release a cloud of chaff, some of which was ingested by the P-8A’s CFM International CFM56 engines.
“It threatened the safety of an aircraft and crew,” says defence minister Richard Marles. “We were operating completely within our rights and international law. Quite obviously this is very dangerous.”
The Chinese defence ministry did not reply to a request for comment.
Flight tracking data suggests the incident occured far to the south of China and just west of the Philippines. The Chinese fighter likely came from one of the air bases China has built on attols in the South China Sea.
The Australian aircraft involved bears the registration A47-008, which was operating from Clark air base in the Philippines. Cirium fleets data indicates that the aircraft entered service in June 2019.
This is the second known incident this year in which the Chinese military has targeted an Australian P-8A. In February, Australia says that a Chinese warship used a high-power laser to illuminate the aircraft over the Makassar Strait, which lies to the north of Australia.
Canada also recently accused Beijing of conducting unsafe intercepts. In a 1 June statement, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) said that unspecified Chinese aircraft intercepted a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Lockheed Martin P-140 – Canada’s designation for the P-3 Orion.
At the time of the incident, the RCAF aircraft was flying in international airspace in support of a UN-sanctioned mission to enforce UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea.
“In these interactions, PLAAF aircraft did not adhere to international air safety norms,” says the CAF.
“These interactions are unprofessional and/or put the safety of our RCAF personnel at risk. In some instances, the RCAF aircrew felt sufficiently at risk that they had to quickly modify their own flight path in order to increase separation and avoid a potential collision with the intercepting aircraft.”
The PLAAF has a long history of aggressive intercepts in international airspace. Most famously, on 1 April 2001 the PLAAF sparked an international incident when a Shenyang J-8 collided with a US Navy EP-3.
The Chinese pilot was killed and the EP-3 made an emergency landing on China’s Hainan Island. While the US crew was eventually released, the EP-3 was only returned in a dismantled state.