The Canadian government says another one of its aircraft has been harassed by Chinese fighter jets in the South China Sea.
Ottawa on 3 November said a Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone multi-role helicopter operating from an underway Royal Canadian Navy ship was repeatedly intercepted by multiple Chinese Shenyang J-11 fighters in an “unsafe” manner. This follows the intercept of a Canadian maritime patrol craft on 16 October by Chinese fighters.
The latest encounter, which occurred on 29 October according to the Canadian defence department, involved a single Canadian CH-148 and several J-11s.
“With successive passes, one jet eventually conducted a pass over the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter with little separation, causing the helicopter to experience turbulence and take appropriate actions to remain safe,” Ottawa says.
During a separate sortie later that day, the same Cyclone was again intercepted by another J-11 fighter, which Canadian defence officials say launched flares “directly in front of the helicopter”.
“The helicopter pilot had to manoeuvre to avoid the flares and reduce the risk of ingesting a flare into the helicopter’s rotor and intakes,” the defence department says.
Ottawa describes two of the three encounters between the Canadian and Chinese aviators as “unsafe”, placing the blame on Beijing’s forces. No injuries or equipment damage are reported as a result of the incidents.
Canada notes its rotorcraft was operating in international airspace “well outside any claimed territorial seas and associated airspace” when the intercepts occurred.
Beijing regularly asserts sovereignty over waters and land features of the South China Sea outside of its internationally recognised territories and economic zones.
The boundary claimed by China, sometimes known as the nine-dash line, encompasses the majority of the South China Sea, including areas claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam.
Chinese military aircraft have been using increasingly aggressive tactics in recent years to assert Beijing’s territorial claims in the region.
Military officials in the USA assert there has been a “sharp increase” in dangerous or aggressive intercepts of American and allied aircraft by Chinese counterparts in the past two years.
In fact, the Pentagon says it has logged more such incidents during that period than in the entire preceding decade.
The latest example took place on 26 October, when a Chinese J-11 approached within 3m (10ft) of a US Air Force Boeing B-52 bomber over the South China Sea during a night-time intercept.
The 29 October Cyclone incident is far from the first intercept involving Canadian aircraft. It was not even the first such occurrence that month.
On 16 October a Royal Canadian Air Force Lockheed Martin CP-140 Aurora patrol turboprop was intercepted by Chinese fighters over the East China Sea near the disputed Senkaku Islands.
That flight, which Canada says was monitoring shipping traffic for violations of economic sanctions against North Korea, happened to be carrying several journalists and senior military officers.
Onboard footage recorded by the CBC during the incident shows Chinese Shenyang J-16 and a Chengdu J-10S fighters flying just a few metres off the Aurora’s wing-tip.
Major General Iain Huddleston, commander of 1 Canadian Air Division, was onboard during the intercept, which he described as aggressive and unprofessional.
“We’re solidly in international airspace,” Huddleston said to the CBC.
“There’s obviously something that the Chinese felt that we were doing wrong,” he added. “But it’s unclear to us what that is.”
The Chinese foreign ministry on 17 October blamed Canada for that incident.