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Defense Department Says Chinese Pilot Nearly Collided With US B-52 Bomber In Latest Intercept

A Chinese fighter jet came within 10 feet of a U.S. nuclear-capable B-52 bomber patrolling the South China Sea in one of the closest unsafe intercepts recorded to date, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) said in a release Thursday.

The incident occurred on Oct. 24, just days after the Pentagon issued a rare statement of concern over the frequency of “unsafe and unprofessional” intercepts involving Chinese aircraft that get too close to or perform other dangerous activities near U.S. aircraft. The Chinese J-11 fighter flew within 10 feet of the American bomber at night in an uncontrolled manner that very nearly resulted in a crash, INDOPACOM said.

“During the night time intercept, the PRC pilot flew in an unsafe and unprofessional manner, demonstrated poor airmanship by closing with uncontrolled excessive speed, flying below, in front of, and within 10 feet of the B-52, putting both aircraft in danger of collision,” INDOPACOM said in a statement.

A People’s Republic of China J-11 pilot executes an intercept of a U.S. Air Force B-52 in the South China Sea on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command
Chinese J-11 pilot attempts an intercept of a U.S. Air Force B-52 in the South China Sea. Photo courtesy: U.S. Air Force

“We are concerned this pilot was unaware of how close he came to causing a collision,” the statement read.

The incident represents the latest in Beijing’s broader campaign to coerce foreign countries operating according to international law into withdrawing from areas claimed for Chinese influence or control, INDOPACOM said.

“Military aircraft, when intentionally approaching another, shall operate with professional airmanship and give due regard for the safety of other aircraft,” the command warned.

The last time a fighter jet intercepted a U.S. plane within 20 feet was in May of 2022, when a Chinese fighter jet came within 10 feet below and 15 feet to the side of a U.S. plane, causing the American pilot to lose sight of the Chinese jet, according to the Pentagon.

“The PLA’s unsafe intercept of a lawfully operating U.S. B-52 aircraft this week is the latest example of a centralized, concerted campaign by the PLA to engage in coercive and risky operational behavior in international airspace,” Ely Ratner, the Department of Defense’s assistant secretary for Indo-Pacific affairs, said in a statement.

Earlier in October, the Pentagon released videos documenting 15 incidents between January 2022 and September 2023 showing Chinese jets moving close to American aircraft at high speeds, deploying projectiles and flares and creating turbulence disrupting the U.S. aircrafts’ flight paths.

The Pentagon has documented a sharp increase in so-called “risky” behavior involving Chinese and U.S. military aircraft flying in accordance with international law since the fall of 2021, more than the combined number of total incidents in the decade before that, Ratner said at a press briefing on Oct. 17.

Of those, about 15 could be considered “unsafe and unprofessional” — the kind of behavior that could put both U.S. and Chinese pilots’ lives at risk, INDOPAOM Commander Adm. John Aquilino added.

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