China sends brand new fighter pilots to intercept US recon flights in East and South China Seas
The Chinese military has begun sending newly-trained fighter pilots on missions to intercept the United States and other countries’ reconnaissance flights in the East and South China Seas, according to Chinese officials.
The South China Morning Post first reported last week that the People’s Liberation Army had started sending new pilots, some of whom are only a month out of training, to intercept recon flights by the United States and its allies. The in-air encounters have increased in recent weeks and some Chinese pilots have reported being targeted by air-to-air missiles during these missions.
CCTV reported that by sending the junior pilots into the interception missions the PLA Air Force “pushed junior pilots to master practical air confrontation skills and countermeasures within a short time.” According to Chinese officials, there has been a significant increase in the number of close-in reconnaissance flights by the United States and its allies in recent weeks, prompting China’s military to ready more pilots to handle such situations.
Last month, the US military’s Indo-Pacific Command reported a close encounter between a Chinese Navy J-11 fighter jet and a US RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft over the South China Sea in which the Chinese plane performed an “unsafe maneuver” that resulted in the US pilots to take “evasive action.” The two aircraft allegedly came within 20 feet of each other in the air. The PLA-AF said a US aircraft made a “dangerous approach movement, which seriously compromised the flight safety of the Chinese military aircraft.”
After the December incident, the Chinese government accused the United States of “hype” and “slander” for its response to the airborne altercation, according to Al-Jazeera. “The United States deliberately misleads public opinion … in an attempt to confuse the international audience,” said Chinese defense ministry spokesman Tian Julan at the time. Beijing made an official request for the US to decrease its recon flights after the skirmish.
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