A Chinese fighter jet’s interception of a US Navy sub-hunter aircraft was possibly triggered when the American plane dropped a sonar surveillance system into the South China Sea, according to state media.
A Chinese J-11 fighter jet reportedly flew within metres of the US Navy P-8 Poseidon when it performed acrobatic manoeuvres around it over international waters east of Hainan Island last week, triggering a war of words between the two nations.
US officials called the act “aggressive” and “dangerous” but China denied its pilot did anything wrong and said the manoeuvre was a response to “large-scale and highly frequent close-in reconnaissance” by US aircraft.
A report in the Beijing-based Global Times, a newspaper affiliated with the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece, People’s Daily, quoted an anonymous military expert who said that Chinese pilots have adopted a series of standard interception guidelines after years of standoffs with US aircraft.
The source said that it was possible that the US jet had dropped a sonobouy – an expendable sonar system used to conduct underwater surveillance – into the sea. If that happened and Chinese submarines had sensed a threat, then the submarine would have called for assistance from fighter jets, the source said, adding that the dropping of a sonobouy would be seen as a very serious act of provocation.
The US Department of Defence did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the claims.
Though the Pentagon did not reveal the US plane’s mission when it was intercepted, some Chinese experts have said it was surveilling China’s nuclear submarines deployed at Hainan Island.
Rear admiral Yin Zhuo said the P-8’s mission was part of the US military’s longstanding efforts to surveil and track Chinese nuclear submarines in the vast and deep waters of the South China Sea, to which the armed vessels are particularly well-suited.
China reportedly deployed three Type 094 nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines at a naval base on Hainan Island this month, according to photos that circulated on Chinese military-enthusiast forums on the internet.