Chinese jets intercept USA military plane in East China Sea

Two Chinese SU-30 aircraft carried out what the US military described as an "unprofessional" intercept of a USA aircraft created to detect radiation while it was flying in worldwide air space over the East China Sea.

The U.S. aircraft, a U.S. WC-135 Constant Phoenix, known colloquially as a "nuke sniffer", was intercepted Wednesday during what the air force termed "a routine mission".

One of the SU-30s flew upside down directly above the USA plane and both of the Chinese jets came within 150 feet of it, CNN reports.

A WC-135 was deployed to the U.S. Air Force's Kadena Air Base in Okinawa last month amid rising tensions with the North as the nuclear-armed country marked two key anniversaries with a spate of missile tests.

She declined to provide further details and said the issue would be addressed with China through "appropriate diplomatic and military channels".

The Chinese interception follows a pattern of Russian planes flying dangerously close to USA aircraft over the a year ago. "Their operations were professional and safe", said China's Defense Ministry spokesman Senior Col. Wu Qian.

A spokeswoman from the US Air Force said a US aircraft had been conducting a routine training mission over the sea, obeying all standards of worldwide law.

Wednesday's incident was the second between USA and Chinese planes this year. The U.S. Air Force said it was on a routine mission in worldwide airspace. The planes came within 305 meters (1,000 feet) of one another in the vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal.

"In 2013, China declared an air defense identification zone over much of the East China Sea and it requires foreign aircraft in the area to follow its orders", NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

"Everything that the United States military officials are now saying is just a so-called 'cover story.' The number of flights performed by U.S. reconnaissance flights close to China has increased by several times".

According to Hodge, the WC-135 was carrying out a routine mission at the time and was operating in accordance with global law.

The aircraft uses external flow-through devices that collect air and debris samples that are later sent to a lab for analysis.

"Distances always have a bearing on how we characterize interactions", Hodge said.

In a separate incident, Japan scrambled jets on Thursday in response to a drone accompanying a Chinese ship near disputed islands in the East China Sea.

  • Larry Hoffman