A Chinese fighter jet closed within 10 feet of a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber in a nighttime intercept over the South China Sea on Oct. 24 that U.S. Indo-Pacific Command deemed “unsafe and unprofessional.”
The incident marks the latest close call between Chinese and U.S. aircraft in the region. The Pentagon recently claimed in its annual China Military Power Report that there have been 180 instances of “coercive and risky behavior” between the fall of 2021 and fall of 2023, more than all of the previous decade combined. The Defense Department also released images and videos of 15 such incidents.
The Oct. 24 encounter stands out, however, as it is the first time INDOPACOM or the Pentagon have noted an unsafe intercept of a U.S. bomber, and because it occurred at night. A video released on social media seemingly shows the J-11 fighter approaching and momentarily disappearing behind the B-52 before reemerging.
“The PRC pilot flew in an unsafe and unprofessional manner, demonstrated poor airmanship by closing with uncontrolled excessive speed, flying below, in front of, and within 10 feet of the B-52, putting both aircraft in danger of collision,” INDOPACOM said in a release. “We are concerned this pilot was unaware of how close he came to causing a collision. The PRC intercept was conducted at night, with limited visibility, in a manner contrary to international air safety rules and norms.”
In previous instances, the Pentagon has highlighted aggressive, unprofessional behavior by Chinese pilots, including the use of explicit language when contacted over radio by U.S. crews, obscene gestures, and aircraft “flashing their weapons.”
There have been a few occasions DOD has noted a Chinese fighter closing within 10 feet of a U.S. aircraft.
The Air Force currently has multiple B-52 bombers in the region as part of a Bomber Task Force rotation. One Stratofortress made a rare landing on the Korean Peninsula and participated in the first ever trilateral air exercise with the U.S., South Korea, and Japan. The bombers, from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., are operating from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, for their deployment.
“The U.S will continue to fly, sail, and operate—safely and responsibly—wherever international laws allow,” INDOPACOM stated in a release. “The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Joint Force remains dedicated to a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and we expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific to operate in international airspace safely and in accordance with international law.”