A United States Navy P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and a Chinese KJ-200 airborne early warning plane nearly collided over the South China Sea – the first such incident in the presidency of Donald Trump and reminiscent of a similar encounter that occurred in the first months of the George W. Bush administration.
U.S. Navy Lt. Scott Keelan, a Patrol Squadron 46 pilot, operates a P-3 Orion aircraft during a sinking exercise Sept. 13, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, during Valiant Shield 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Justin Fisher)
According to a report by FoxNews.com, the incident occurred Nov. 8 off Scarborough Shoal, a reef about 120 miles off the west coast of Luzon. Chinese forces have interfered with Filipino fishermen in the vicinity of the reefs, an action condemned by an international arbitration panel.
A P-3C Orion from Patrol Squadron (VP) 10 takes off from Naval Air Facility Misawa. VP-10 recently started a six-month deployment to NAF Misawa in support of the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kenneth G. Takada/Released)
The two planes reportedly came within 1,000 feet of each other. Incidents like this have not been unusual in the region. While not as close as past encounters (some of which had planes come within 50 feet of each other), this is notable because the KJ-200 is based on the Y-8, a Chinese copy of the Russian Antonov An-12 "Cub" transport plane.
Many of the past incidents in recent years involved J-11 Flankers, a Chinese knock-off of the Su-27 Flanker. Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and EP-3E electronic surveillance planes were involved in some of these encounters, which drew sharp protests from the Pentagon. China also carried out the brazen theft of an American unmanned underwater vehicle last December.
A KJ-200 airborne early warning aircraft. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Perhaps the most notable incident in the South China Sea was the 2001 EP-3 incident. On April 1, 2001, a Navy EP-3E collided with a People's Liberation Army Navy Air Force J-8 "Finback" fighter. The EP-3E made an emergency landing on Hainan Island, where the 24 crew were detained for ten days before being released.
Such incidents may be more common. FoxNews.com reported that during his confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took a hard line on Chinese actions in the South China Sea.