As the tension between the United States and China intensifies, the frequency of Chinese military aircraft intercepting US or foreign reconnaissance aircraft is also increasing, and the chances of “air encounters” between each other are also increasing. Analysts said that under various factors such as climate, turbulence, and inadvertent human operations, there are certain risks in approaching and intercepting, which may cause “misjudgment in the air” and lead to a higher possibility of military conflict between the two countries. It causes considerable flight pressure on the pilot, so the training of the pilot is particularly important. During the Lunar New Year holiday, Chinese state media CCTV released a video of the J-11 monitoring foreign fighter jets in the South China Sea.It can be seen from the picture that two J-11 Flanker fighter jets each carry 4 air-to-air missiles, take off from Yongxing Island in Xisha, and follow foreign fighter jets entering the nearby area.
In December last year, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command publicly stated that a Chinese J-11 fighter plane conducted an “unsafe operation” when intercepting a U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane in the South China Sea, and flew less than 20 minutes in front of the reconnaissance plane. feet (about 6 meters), forcing the US plane to take evasive action to avoid collision. The Chinese side responded that it was caused by the U.S. sending planes and ships to conduct close-in reconnaissance against China for a long time, and ignoring warnings, suddenly changing the flight altitude and making dangerous approaches.
Chinese warplanes also dangerously intercepted an Australian P-8 reconnaissance plane in the South China Sea in May last year, and fired flares with light and sprayed aluminum foil jamming wires. Some of the aluminum foil was also wrapped into the engine of the Australian plane. Canada accused Chinese warplanes of harassing its maritime patrol aircraft in June last year, causing them to divert their flight routes.
While the Chinese military is demonstrating its growing military strength in the Asia-Pacific, there are more and more situations where Chinese fighter planes meet foreign fighter planes in the air, approach for detection and interception, and even approach dangerously, resulting in the probability of military conflicts caused by misjudgment in the air Also will increase, the pilot’s training also appears to be particularly important.
Lieutenant General Zhang Yanting, the former Deputy Commander of Taiwan’s Air Force, said in an interview with Voice of America that if air interception is carried out at a distance of two to three nautical miles (one to two kilometers) from foreign aircraft, it is normal and safe air security. Whether it is visual or ground radar or the control officer, once the relevant position of the external aircraft is known, the pilot will always follow the favorable position behind the external aircraft, maintaining the same speed, heading and altitude. This is called safety investigation. But if it is approaching and intercepting, if the distance from the external aircraft is only two or three meters, there will be many dangers, and the pressure on the pilot will also increase relatively.
Three aspects of risk
He said that in the face of approaching interception, the pressure and risks of pilots mainly come from three aspects. First, cloud thickness is a big variable. He said that on a sunny day, the pilot can slowly approach the unknown aircraft by his own operation, and then report the aircraft’s model, aircraft number, sortie, altitude, heading, speed and other related flight information to the ground controller for information. Comprehensive. But if the weather is bad, such as when the northeast monsoon comes, there will be several layers of clouds in the sky, and the visibility in the clouds is very poor. Once the plane enters the clouds, the pilot will have no way to see the unidentified aircraft visually, which will greatly increase the interception troubled. This is completely different from the situation where unidentified planes can be seen from far away on a cloudless sunny day.
Next is airflow. Zhang Yanting said that the larger the reconnaissance plane, the more obvious the airflow turbulence generated behind it, especially the intercepted plane, its flight trajectory is not always level and forward, it may change its course, up and down, High and low, left and right, and fighter jets are relatively small. If they get too close to the reconnaissance plane, they may get into the turbulence of the reconnaissance plane. Therefore, it is necessary to follow the flight attitude of the reconnaissance plane to make changes. If there is a careless operation will be in danger.
A third risk, he said, comes from mission matching among pilots. He said that there is usually not only one aircraft on an interception mission, but a fleet of two or four aircraft, one for approaching and intercepting, the other for taking pictures, and the other two for security in the air, or even Probably more. Therefore, the mission matching among pilots, the tacit understanding of interception, and the exchange of positions in the air, everyone has his role and mission. If there is no coordination in the air, air crises will also occur.Zhang Yanting said: “So all these have to be considered, whether it is turbulence, visibility, whether there are clouds, and the tasks between each other and everyone in the team, he has this aspect. It must be carefully considered, if the interception is inadvertent, there will be some air crises.”
Nighttime interception is difficult
In addition, Zhang Yanting said that nighttime interception is completely different from daytime interception, because nighttime interception cannot be done visually, “the distance Judgment is almost zero”, and the judgment of distance can only be made by looking at the lights of the external machine, but the other party may also turn off all three lights of anti-collision lights, navigation lights, and position lights to hide himself; even if there are bright lights , it is also difficult to correctly judge the distance between each other at night, you can only rely on ground radar, but if the external aircraft is next to you, the radar cannot scan it, because the radar can only scan objects in front of the aircraft, so you can only rely on visual inspection , Under this circumstance, it will also cause a high degree of difficulty in intercepting at night, and the risk will be greater.
Zhang Yanting said: “(At this time) you can’t approach and intercept, because (you can’t) judge how close the rate is. If you rush past, the close rate is very high, and you will collide with each other on a collision course, because you have no way to know the close rate at night. ”
Zhang Yanting also said that when the external plane makes some flight changes, it means that it is hostile and wants to escape. At this time, the interceptor should also change its actions accordingly and follow up, which may also make the other party feel that it is too much. Close, not very friendly. When both sides feel that it is not friendly, it may cause aerial misjudgment or aerial provocation, forming the danger of air approach.
The US-China South China Sea collision incident in 2001 was a famous tragedy. At that time, a US Navy EP-3 electronic reconnaissance plane collided with a Chinese J-8II fighter jet while performing routine reconnaissance missions over the South China Sea. The pilot, Major Wang Wei, parachuted and disappeared, and has not been found so far. He was eventually deemed dead by the CCP. The engine of the American plane was turned off and made an emergency landing at Lingshui Airport on Hainan Island. After three months of tossing, it was transported back to the United States. This incident also caused a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
air encounter guidelines
In order to reduce the risk of accidental conflict between the two countries, the United States and China signed a “Sino-US Memorandum of Understanding on the Code of Conduct for Safe Air and Sea Encounters” in 2014, but because this memorandum did not cover the code of conduct that air fighters should follow, Therefore, in September 2015, the United States and China signed the “Supplementary Specifications of the Memorandum of Understanding on the Safety Code of Conduct for Sea and Air Encounters” in order to avoid accidental conflicts when fighter planes meet in the air.
The “South China Morning Post” pointed out that since the beginning of December 2022, the United States has increased close-range reconnaissance flights in the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea, and at the same time sent 680 reconnaissance flights in the South China Sea. In 2021, large U.S. reconnaissance aircraft conducted 1,200 close-range reconnaissance flights in the South China Sea. This has also forced China to speed up the training of new pilots to meet the needs of air interception.
Xu Jianhong, a Taiwanese military reporter who has been the author of many military books, said in an interview with Voice of America that China’s air force used to be a national air defense air force, which mainly defended China’s land and seldom went to sea. Now it will go to sea. Both offensive and defensive air force. The combat thinking is different, and the mentality must also be changed. There must be more principles to restrain the pilots. While guarding their so-called airspace, they must also avoid provocative actions that cause air danger.
Xu Jianhong said that when the situation of approaching and intercepting in the air increases, the two sides will become hostile after a long time, and may even affect the safety of civil aircraft. For example, on July 23, 1954, two La-11 propellers belonging to the 29th Division of the PLA Air Force As for the aircraft, a Cathay Pacific airliner was shot down as a bomber of the Republic of China Air Force; 3 days later, the U.S. military also shot down two Chinese La-11s in retaliation. This is a real case.
He said that although the identification codes and flight paths
of military aircraft and civilian aircraft are different, modern technology has advanced, and the probability of error has been greatly reduced, but even in modern times, there was a case in 2014 that a Malaysian airliner was shot down by Ukrainian pro-Russian militia .He said: “That is to say, in the future, if such incidents increase and become more frequent, then these passenger planes around the South (China) Sea will also have some security concerns. I think this is what they need in the future. to avoid this from happening.”