A US spy plane flying near the eastern coast of China was intercepted by two Chinese fighter jets and had to change course, US officials said. The surveillance aircraft was flying over international waters between China and South Korea.
The incident took place on Sunday, unnamed US officials told reporters on Monday. An EP-3 ARIES signals intelligence plane was flying about 90 miles (140km) south of the port city of Qingdao, when it was approached by two J-10 interceptors, armed with air-to-air missiles.
One of the Chinese jets flew under the EP-3 and popped up 300 feet (90 meters) in front of the US plane, causing the crew “to take evasive action to avoid collision,” according to one official.
The EP-3 Airborne Reconnaissance Integrated Electronic System (ARIES) is a version of the P-3 Orion spy plane. Both are in service with the US Navy.
This is the third time in recent months that Chinese interceptors have warned off US spy planes flying off the coast of China. In late May, as the US Navy sailed near disputed islands in the South China Sea, two Chinese jets buzzed a P-3 Orion 150 miles (240km) southeast of Hong Kong in what US officials called an “unsafe intercept.”
A week earlier, Chinese jets intercepted a US Air Force WC-135 Constant Phoenix “nuclear sniffer” plane over the East China Sea.
In April 2001, an EP-3E ARIES II collided with a Chinese J-8 fighter and had to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island. The crash killed the Chinese pilot. While the crew was repatriated within 10 days, the plane remained in Chinese possession until July, when it was shipped back to the US in pieces.