Chinese pilots using Soviet tactics: expert

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2001, 12:00am

Chinese pilots may have been imitating the tactics of Soviet pilots during the Cold War when the mid-air collision took place, according to diplomatic sources in Beijing. During the Cold War, two Soviet fighters would be despatched to buzz intruding planes. When attempting to force a landing, one fighter would try to nudge the intruder from the side while the other would be above, forcing it down.

'This is probably what was happening when something went wrong, perhaps one of the Chinese planes got too close,' a Western expert said. 'There's a top-gun mentality among the Chinese pilots. They are very cocky but they are not well-trained or equipped. Chinese jets regularly try and shoot across the Taiwan Strait and veer off at the last moment to try and test Taiwanese reaction.'

Admiral Dennis Blair, head of the US Pacific Command, complained on Monday that routine Chinese interceptions had become more aggressive to the point they were endangering the safety of American aircraft.

Russia has reportedly been involved in training the Chinese pilots to fly the SU-27 jets sold in a series of barter deals.

During the Cold War, Soviet planes regularly buzzed foreign planes approaching Soviet airspace. Diplomatic sources said this training and the added speed and manoeuvrability of the new planes had encouraged Chinese pilots to act more confidently during routine flights monitoring enemy aircraft.

The Russian planes do not come equipped with advanced avionics and the sources said Chinese pilots spent far fewer hours training than counterparts in other countries.

Chinese planes may have had instructions to discourage the EP-3E from monitoring the exercises being undertaken by China's Xia-class submarine, which was recently equipped with ballistic missiles.

China reports that the two jets involved were its own F-8 fighters - not the imported SU-27s - and that the US surveillance plane suddenly veered towards the Chinese aircraft.

China appears to recognise that the incident took place in international waters and airspace, about 104km from Hainan Island. China argues that it was only natural for its military jets to track a US surveillance plane carrying out surveillance on waters near the Chinese coast.