The Department of Defense (DOD), in a rare move, released several videos showing “risky” moves Chinese planes conducted near U.S. aircraft in the East and South China Sea regions that could have resulted in accidents and miscalculation, military and defense officials said.
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, Ely Ratner, the assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said at a press briefing on Tuesday. 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, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Commander Adm. John Aquilino added.
The dramatic uptick in unsafe intercepts represents a “centralized and concerted campaign to perform these risky behaviors in order to coerce a change in lawful U.S. activities,” Ratner said.
The Pentagon released videos documenting the 15 incidents ahead of the expected release of the department’s annual report on Chinese military power, Ratner said. Those incidents show Chinese jets moving close to American aircraft at high speeds, releasing projectiles and flares and creating turbulence disrupting the U.S. aircrafts’ flight paths.
The most recent unsafe intercept took place in September, Ratner said.
In an incident from January, a PLA fighter jet approached the U.S. asset “at a speed of hundreds of miles per hour clearly armed and closing just 30 feet away,” Ratner said. The Chinese pilot lingered near the U.S. plane for more than 15 minutes.
That incident happened just weeks after the U.S. had released a video and public condemnation of similar behavior, Ratner said. He warned that an escalation in incidents, coming at a time when the Chinese military has repeatedly refused attempts to engage with the U.S. military at the highest levels, increases the possibility of accident, miscalculation and death, the officials warned.
In August, a PLA jet performed a barrel roll circling around a U.S. aircraft. The American pilot had to employ “defensive procedures” to avoid colliding with the Chinese jet, DOD said.
“The joint force is highly trained, disciplined and professional. Our air operations are highly planned,” Aquilino said.
“I’m most concerned about the potential for accidents. Those accidents could lead to miscalculation, and we must prevent those from happening in the theater,” he added. Intercepts are normal and safe in most cases, and “there is no reason for our intercepts with the PRC to be any different,” he added.
Officials said the footage is a result of months of declassification to ensure allies and partners receive the message without disclosing sensitive aspects of U.S. assets or missions.
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