Chinese J-11 fighter comes 10 feet from USAF B-52
On Oct. 24, 2023, a People’s Republic of China J-11 pilot executed an unsafe intercept of a US Air Force (USAF) B-52 aircraft, which was lawfully conducting routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace. According to a US Indo-Pacific Command news release, during the night time intercept, 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. The US 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. Military aircraft, when intentionally approaching another, shall operate with professional airmanship and give due regard for the safety of other aircraft.
Risky operational behavior by the People’s Liberation Army
This incident represents the latest example of what the Department of Defense described in the 2023 China Military Power Report (CMPR) as “unsafe, unprofessional, and other behaviors that seek to impinge upon the ability of the United States and other nations to safely conduct operations where international law allows,” including more than 180 such interactions since the fall of 2021. On Oct. 17, 2023, the Department released a collection of declassified images and videos depicting a dangerous pattern of coercive and risky operational behavior by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) against US aircraft operating lawfully in international airspace in the East and South China Sea regions.
First unsafe intercept of a US bomber by a Chinese fighter
However, as reported by Air and Space Forces Magazine, the Oct. 24 encounter stands out, however, as it is the first time INDOPACOM or the Pentagon have noted an unsafe intercept of a US bomber, and because it occurred at night. A video (featured below) released on social media seemingly shows the J-11 fighter approaching and momentarily disappearing behind the B-52 before reemerging.
The US will continue to fly, sail, and operate – safely and responsibly – wherever international laws allow. The US Indo-Pacific Command Joint Force remains dedicated to a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and they expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific to operate in international airspace safely and in accordance with international law.
B-52 Bomber Task Force rotation
The USAF 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 US, South Korea, and Japan.
“The Bomber Task Force is designed to enhance the high-end readiness of the bomber force while also advancing our interoperability with allies and partners,” said Lt. Col. Jared Patterson, 20th EBS commander, in the article B-52 Stratofortresses return to Indo-Pacific for BTF missions by Tech. Sgt. Nick Wilson. “Each mission flown further demonstrates our ability to provide agile combat ready forces and long-range strike capabilities to combatant commanders around the globe.”
Throughout this deployment, the B-52s actively train during operations and exercises while integrating alongside allies and partners throughout the region.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force