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Was the PLAAF Really Chasing a U-2?

Was that U.S. spyplane that was chased into Taiwanese airspace by a pair of PLAAF Su-27s really a U-2 Dragon Lady?

A new piece by Defense News' Asia bureau chief Wendell Minnick postulates that the jet may have instead been an Navy EP-3 Aries signals/electronic intelligence (SIGINT/ELINT) planes or an Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint SIGINT plane -- both of which routinely fly over international waters off the Chinese coast vacuuming up intelligence on the Chinese military.

Were we about to see a repeat of the 2001 incident where an EP-3 collided with a Chinese J-8III fighter?

From Defense News:

Local media reports said the Su-27s were trying to catch a U-2 spy plane conducting a surveillance mission out of Osan Air Base, South Korea. The reports said the U-2 diverted to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, to avoid the Chinese fighters.

But surveillance aircraft specialist Chris Pocock was skeptical. There are only three U-2s based in East Asia, all at Osan, to watch North Korea, Pocock said.

"They may also fly southwards along the China coast as far as Taiwan, but not on a routine basis," he said.

The aircraft might have been a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries or U.S. Air Force RC-135, which operate at lower altitudes and have been harassed by Chinese fighters in the past.

In 2000, two Chinese J-8 fighters intercepted a U.S. Air Force RC-135 in international airspace above the East China Sea. A year later, a J-8 fighter collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries near Hainan Island in the South China Sea.

Despite Chinese complaints, the U.S. surveillance aircraft flies regular missions along China's coastline. They stay in international airspace because straying into Chinese territory would make them easy targets for S-300PMU-1/2 and Hongqi-10 surface-to-air missiles.

 

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