Seoul, South Korea | June 7, 2022
According to Australia’s Defense Ministry, a Chinese fighter jet’s aggressive maneuvers endangered the crew of an Australian surveillance plane patrolling near the South China Sea.
Last month, while on a normal surveillance flight in international airspace, the Chinese J-16 came alongside the Australian P-8, discharging flares and chaff that penetrated at least one of the Australian aircraft’s engines, according to Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles.
Chaff is normally released by military planes as a planned countermeasure to confuse missiles, but it can also be used to sabotage following aircraft.
The encounter was described by Australia’s Defense Ministry as “a risky movement that posed a safety concern to the P-8 aircraft and its crew” in a statement.
In a television interview, Marles informed Australia’s 9News that the J-16 aircraft came quite close to the side of the P-8 and that by doing so, it discharged flares.
“The J-16 then accelerated and cut across the P-8’s nose, settling in front of it at a very close range.”
At that point, it ejected a chaff bundle containing small bits of aluminum, some of which were absorbed into the P-8 aircraft’s engine. “Clearly, this is quite risky,” Marles stated.
According to Peter Layton, a former Australian Air Force officer who is now a fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, chaff can damage a jet engine’s blades and, in severe cases, shut it down when consumed.
The P-8 can only function on one of its two engines, thus the reported mishap would have driven it back to base, thereby ending its patrol, according to Layton.
On January 17, 2022, a Royal Australian Air Force P-8 Poseidon aircraft lands at an airbase in Amberly, Australia.
Anthony Albanese, Australia’s prime minister, said his administration has raised the issue with Beijing.
“What happened was not safe,” Albanese said. “We’ve made proper statements to the Chinese authorities expressing our concern.”
“In accordance with international law, the Australian aircraft was exercising the right to freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace,” he said.
Tan Kefei, a spokeswoman for China’s Defense Ministry, accused Australia of “approaching Chinese airspace” near the Paracel Islands, a disputed archipelago claimed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan in the northern South China Sea.
“As a result, the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command deployed marine and air forces to identify, verify, and offer warnings to dispel the Australian warplane,” according to Tan, who added that the Chinese military “responded with professional, safe, reasonable, and legal means.”
“We severely warn Australia to stop similar risky and provocative conduct immediately, and to strictly regulate its navy and air force missions; else, it will bear all terrible consequences,” Tan warned.
China claims practically the whole 1.3 million square mile South China Sea, and has turned small reefs and sandbars far from its coast into man-made artificial islands, heavily defended with missiles, runways, and weapons systems, provoking international outrage.
Second time in a week
Chinese planes have been accused of threatening foreign military’ reconnaissance missions for the second time in a week.
China stated on Wednesday that its reconnaissance aircraft were harassed by Chinese warplanes implementing UN sanctions against North Korea.
The Chinese airplanes got so near to the Canadian aircraft that they had to change course to avoid colliding, according to the Canadian Armed Forces.
“The PLAAF aircraft did not follow to international aviation safety regulations during these engagements,” stated Dan Le Bouthillier, the Canadian Armed Forces’ media relations chief.
China-Australia tensions have been smoldering for much of this year.
In February, Australia claimed that a Chinese vessel “illumined” an Australian P-8 in waters off the country’s north coast with a laser. According to the US Federal Aviation Administration, directing a laser at an aircraft can harm the pilots’ vision and put the plane in hazard.
That act was deemed “dangerous” and “reckless” by the Australian authorities.
The Australian charges were incorrect, according to Beijing, and its vessel was acting in compliance with international law. Australia was accused of “maliciously propagating false information on China,” according to the report.
China and Australia have also clashed over Beijing’s efforts to reach new security agreements with a number of Pacific island states that had previously been staunch allies of Australia.
Other close encounters between Chinese and foreign jets have occurred in the past.
The worst of them occurred over the South China Sea in 2001, when a Chinese fighter jet collided with a US Navy spy plane.
The Chinese F-8 fighter pilot was killed in the incident, and the US plane was forced to make an emergency landing on China’s Hainan Island. The 24 US crew men were imprisoned for 11 days on the Chinese island before being released.