The Pentagon declassified videos and photos of 15 incidents in which Chinese jets performed “coercive and risky” maneuvers, sometimes within a mere 20 feet of U.S. jets in the Indo-Pacific region.
The photos and video released Tuesday show a subset of what the Pentagon considers part of a “centralized and concerted campaign” by China to change U.S. operations in the region.
There have been more than 180 instances of “coercive and risky” behavior against U.S. jets since the fall of 2021. That’s more incidents in the past two years than in the decade before that, Assistant Defense Secretary for the Indo-Pacific Ely Ratner told reporters on Tuesday.
“That’s nearly 200 cases where PLA operators have performed reckless maneuvers or discharged chaff or shot off flares or approached too rapidly or too close to U.S. aircraft — all as part of trying to interfere with the ability of U.S. forces to operate safely,” Ratner said.
One of the declassified videos released was taken in July and shows a Chinese jet deploying flares over the East China Sea. According to the Pentagon, the jet sent eight flares just 900 feet from a U.S. plane. The most recent video is from September when a Chinese jet approached within just 50 feet of a U.S. plane over the South China Sea, according to the Pentagon.
The “coercive and risky” behavior is slightly less dangerous than the characterization of “unsafe and unprofessional,” which is essentially when lives are at stake, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Adm. John Aquilino said.
“What we’ve seen since 2021 is a set of actions that have brought airplanes much closer together than are comfortable for those in the cockpit,” Aquilino said, adding that a subset of the 180 instances have been “unsafe and unprofessional.”
Both Aquilino and Ratner said that China’s provocative behavior is not limited to the air — the Chinese also harass U.S. ships.
The declassified videos come ahead of the annual Chinese Military Power Report the Pentagon submits to Congress, which describes the elements of China’s growing military. Ratner said this year’s report, which he expects to be released soon, will detail the uptick in China’s harassing behavior.
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