The U.S. Department of Defense released on Tuesday a series of declassified images and videos depicting dangerous mid-air encounters with Chinese warplanes since 2021.
The Pentagon describes the maneuvers by Chinese pilots toward U.S. aircraft lawfully operating in international airspace in the East and South China Sea regions as ‘dangerous.
These materials have been made available in advance of the anticipated release of the 2023 Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, commonly referred to as the “China Military Power Report (CMPR).” The images and videos published by the Department highlight key findings in the forthcoming report regarding an escalating pattern of coercive and high-risk operational behavior by the PLA since the autumn of 2021.
The declassified images and videos were recorded during lawful U.S. air operations when PLA personnel engaged in coercive and high-risk activities. These activities encompassed reckless maneuvers, close and high-speed approaches in the air, the release of objects and projectiles like flares, and other hazardous behaviors.
The United States has been conducting operations in the region for decades, adhering to international law while emphasizing safety and responsibility. U.S. presence in the Indo-Pacific is welcomed by allies and partners as it aligns with a shared regional vision of peace and security. This vision, articulated by Secretary Austin at the Shangri-La Dialogue this year, is grounded in principles such as sovereignty, adherence to international law, transparency, freedom of commerce and navigation, equal rights for all states, and peaceful dispute resolution through dialogue, rather than coercion or conquest. In contrast, the PLA’s coercive and high-risk conduct aims to intimidate and pressure international community members into relinquishing their rights under international law.
A trove of declassified images and video released by the Department of Defense Tuesday show dozens of these recent, high-speed aerial encounters.
In one video, a PLA fighter was seen crossing in front of the U.S. aircraft at a distance of 100 yards, forcing the U.S. aircraft to fly through the wake turbulence created by the PLA plane.
In a April 29, incident, video shows four PLA aircraft conducting intercept of US aircraft, at one point reaching a distance of just 75 feet from the U.S. plane.
In one video, a May 24 encounter, was capture by a PLA fighter jet in the course of conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating U.S. asset in the East China Sea. The PLA fighter jet first sped toward the U.S. asset and crossed under the plane’s nose, causing the U.S. aircraft to lose visual contact of the PLA fighter. After the U.S. pilot opened some distance between the two planes, the PLA pilot re-approached at a distance of just 15 feet laterally and 10 feet below the U.S. plane.
In the June 23 incident PLA fighter jet conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a lawfully operating U.S. asset in the South China Sea approached a distance of just 40 feet before repeatedly flying above and below the U.S. aircraft and flashing its weapons. After the U.S. operator radioed the PLA fighter jet, the PLA pilot responded using explicit language, including an expletive.
These declassified materials serve as a compelling demonstration of the U.S. Department of Defense’s commitment to transparency and the upholding of international norms. These instances of coercive and high-risk behaviors by the People’s Liberation Army in international airspace underscore the need for vigilance and the protection of rights under international law.