A Chinese military fighter jet flew in an “unsafe” and “unprofessional” manner around a U.S. C-130 aircraft over the South China Sea in June, according to two sources familiar with the incident who spoke to Politico on Thursday to first reveal the incident.
The June incident reportedly involved a Chinese Su-30 fighter jet and a special operations variant of a U.S. C-130 Hercules. The sources did not specify what variant of C-130 was involved. The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) operates several different specialized MC-130 models that are outfitted for tactical infiltration and exfiltration, as well as models that serve as aerial fueling tankers and gunships.
Politico’s sources for the alleged June incident did not give an exact date for the encounter or provide details about how the encounter played out. They said only that the Department of Defense had deemed the interaction between the Chinese and U.S. aircraft to be “unsafe” and “unprofessional.”
Lt. Col. Martin Meiners, a Defense Department spokesperson declined to comment directly on the alleged June interaction but said, “Our aircrews frequently encounter safe and professional intercepts, and when it is otherwise we have procedures in place to address it. The United States will continue to fly and operate in accordance with international law and expects others to do the same.”
The alleged interaction between these two aircraft is just one in a string of tense encounters reported between the U.S. and China in the South China Sea in recent weeks.
Also in June, China reportedly warned U.S. warships to avoid sailing through the Taiwan Strait, which is an international waterway.
China considers Taiwan a part of its territory, though the island governs itself as a de facto independent nation. Chinese officials have repeatedly threatened to assert Chinese control over Taiwan by force and have warned U.S. military forces operating in the Indo-Pacific region to avoid actions in or around Taiwan that could indicate support for Taiwan’s independence.
On Monday, a Chinese warship was heard ordering a U.S. aircraft operating in international airspace near Taiwan to avoid the area, in an intercepted audio recording.
On Wednesday, Chinese military officials claimed that their naval and air forces chased away the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG-65) away from the Paracel Islands, which China has tried to assert territorial claims over. The U.S. Navy directly refuted the Chinese characterization of the incident and said the U.S. warship was carrying out a routine “freedom of navigation operation” or FONOP.
In addition to trying to keep U.S. aircraft and warships out of the South China Sea and away from Taiwan, China frequently flies military aircraft into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which prompts Taiwan’s military forces to issue radio warnings and dispatch its own military aircraft to intercept the Chinese aircraft.