The Chinese J-16 closed in on the Australian P-8 while carrying out a routine surveillance mission in international airspace last month before launching flares and chaff that entered at least l one of the engines of the Australian aircraft, said Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles.
Military aircraft typically release chaff—usually tiny strips of aluminum or zinc—as a deliberate countermeasure to confuse missiles, but may also use it to sabotage pursuing aircraft.
In a statement, the Australian Department of Defense described the encounter as “a dangerous maneuver which posed a threat to the safety of the P-8 aircraft and its crew”.
“The J-16 then accelerated and clipped the nose of the P-8, settling in front of the P-8 at very close range.
“At this point he then released a pile of chaff containing small pieces of aluminum, some of which were ingested into the engine of the P-8 aircraft. Obviously it’s very dangerous,” Marles said.
When ingested, the chaff can damage a jet engine’s blades and, in extreme cases, can even shut it down, said Peter Layton, a former Australian Air Force officer who is now a member of the Griffith Asia Institute.
While the P-8 can only run on one of its two engines, the alleged incident would have forced it back to base, ending its patrol, Layton said.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government had raised the issue with Beijing.
“It was unclear what happened, and we made appropriate representations to the Chinese government to express our concern,” Albanese said.
The Australian plane was flying “in accordance with international law, exercising the right to freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace”, he said.
“The People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command has therefore deployed naval and air forces to identify, verify and issue warnings to dispel the Australian fighter jet,” Tan said, adding that the Chinese military “responded with professional, safe, reasonable and legal measures”.
“We sternly warn Australia to immediately stop such dangerous and provocative acts, and to strictly control its naval and air missions; otherwise, it will have to bear all the serious consequences of its actions,” Tan said.
Second time in a week
It is the second time in a week that Chinese planes have been accused of endangering reconnaissance flights of other armies.
On Wednesday, Canada said Chinese warplanes were buzzing over its reconnaissance planes to enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea.
In some cases, Chinese warplanes got so close that Canadian planes had to change course to avoid a collision, the Canadian Armed Forces said.
“During these interactions, PLAAF aircraft did not meet international aviation safety standards,” said Dan Le Bouthillier, head of media relations for the Canadian Armed Forces.
Tensions between China and Australia have simmered for much of this year.
The Australian government called the act “dangerous” and “reckless”.
But Beijing said the Australian claims were false and that its warship was acting in accordance with international law. He accused Australia of “maliciously spreading false information about China”.
There have been other close encounters between Chinese and foreign fighter jets over the years.
The worst of these occurred in 2001, when a Chinese fighter jet collided with a US Navy reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea.
In this case, the pilot of the Chinese F-8 fighter was killed and the American plane had to make an emergency landing on the Chinese island of Hainan. The 24 American crew members were held on the Chinese island for 11 days before their release.
This story has been updated with additional reports and reaction.