Two Chinese military aircraft intercepted a U.S. military reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea Tuesday.
Defense Department spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza said that the U.S. maritime patrol reconnaissance aircraft was flying in a “routine patrol” in international airspace on May 17 when “two tactical aircraft from the People’s Republic of China” intercepted the U.S. plane.
Image: A Chinese J-11 fighter jet
A Chinese J-11 fighter flies in this U.S. Department of Defense photo taken on August 19, 2014. US NAVY / Reuters file
The two Chinese fighter jets were J-11s and flew approximately 50 feet from the U.S. aircraft, a Navy E-P3.
“Initial reports characterized the incident as unsafe,” Baldanza said in a written statement. “Over the past year, DoD has seen improvements in PRC actions, flying in a safe and professional manner.”
The incident is under investigation by U.S. Pacific Command. The U.S. has photos but they are classified.
In a statement, China’s Defense Ministry said it was “aware of such reports,” adding: “We will learn more and assess related facts.”