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China J-16 cuts across RAAF P-8 in ‘dangerous manoeuvre’

written by Adam Thorn | June 5, 2022

A Chinese J-16 cut across the nose of a RAAF P-8 Poseidon in what Defence has called a “dangerous manoeuvre” that was a safety threat to the Australian crew.

The incident, first revealed on Sunday, took place on 26 May over the South China Sea and saw the fighter jet accelerate so close to the Australian aircraft that a “bundle of chaff” was ingested into its engine.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said the P-8 returned back to base safely but added the incident would not deter the RAAF from continuing to fly over the disputed area.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said, “In the Australian government’s view, in the Defence Department’s view, this was not safe, what occurred, and we’ve made appropriate representations to the Chinese government expressing our concern at this.”

The RAAF P-8 Poseidon is a maritime patrol aircraft used for a variety of roles including reconnaissance and search and rescue.

On 26 May, it was undertaking “routine maritime surveillance activity” in international airspace in the South China Sea region.

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Marles told reporters in Melbourne that the Chinese J-16 “accelerated and cut across the nose of the P-8, settling in front of the P-8 at very close distance”.

“At that moment, it then released a bundle of chaff, which contains small pieces of aluminium, some of which were ingested into the engine of the P-8aircraft.

“Quite obviously, this is very dangerous.

“The activity of the P-8 form part of maritime surveillance activity which has been undertaken by Australia in the South China Sea for decades – other countries do the same.

“I want to make it also very clear that this incident will not deter Australia from continuing to engage in these activities, which are within our rights and international law, to ensure that there is freedom of navigation in the South China Sea because that is fundamentally in our nation’s interest.”

The Boeing-built P-8A is a military variant initially based on Boeing’s workhorse narrowbody 737 Next Generation.

It’s equipped with advanced sensors and mission systems, including a multi-role radar, high-definition cameras and a high-processing acoustic system and an extensive communications suite.

Australia’s Poseidon fleet is based at RAAF Base Edinburgh and was introduced to partially replace the RAAF’s fleet of AP-3C Orions, together with the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system.

You can read Australian Aviation’s full profile here.

Comments (19)

  • Stevo

    says:

    Same aircraft type was part of the international fleet searching for missing Chinese Nationals in the MH370 disaster. Shameful actions by the PLAAF.

    • phodge

      says:

      Highly unlikely as the J16 is a fighter airplane with range limitations. I believe the Chinese assigned ooe of their ancient patrnl planes to this task.

      • John Gipps

        says:

        No phodge, Stevo was commenting that P8’s were involved in the search, not J16 fighters.

    • Lynn

      says:

      It’s called ‘South China Sea’. Think twice before you make a bullshit comment.

  • Robert Chin

    says:

    “I want to make it also very clear that this incident will not deter Australia from continuing to engage in these activities, which are within our rights and international law, to ensure that there is freedom of navigation in the South China Sea because that is fundamentally in our nation’s interest.”

    Not true. There is no freedom of navigation in the South China Sea per se.

    Under the 1945 Potsdam Declaration signed by the US, UK and China all territories stolen from China by Japan were returned to China by Japan in October 1945. These included Formosa (Taiwan), Manchuria, the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China sea.

    Navigation near and over these Islands in the South China Sea must conform with the UN Convention Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which came into force in 1994. China and Australia are signatories but the US refused to ratify it.

    Since these islands have a 200 nm EEZ, innocent passage of foreign military jets and warships over the EEZ of the Paracel and Spratly is allowed but they must conform with the regulations of China and are not allowed to conduct military activities like Spying.

    The Australian P 8 was flying over the EEZ of China’s Islands in the South China Sea and it violated the provisions of UNCLOS by conducting spying on China. China has the right to intercept the Australian P8.

    • Graham Haxell

      says:

      The EEZ is an Exclusive Economic Zone [solely to prevent unwarranted commercial exploitation], it is not the same as a country’s territorial limit which extends to only 20kms from the coast. As the RAAF P8 was not indulging in commercial activity, it was not doing anything wrong, besides it was operating with the knowledge and permission of Taiwanese authorities. China needs to respect international law. Next time that a PLAAF plane tries to interfere with legitimate activity, it may suffer consequences.

      • Robert Chin

        says:

        Not True. As I mentioned “innocent passage of foreign military jets and warships over the EEZ of the Paracel and Spratly is allowed” This is in accordance with Article 17 of UNCLOS. But the foreign military jets and warships must conform with the regulations of the country and are not allowed to conduct military activities “aimed at collecting information to the prejudice of the defence or security of the coastal State” pursuant to Article 19 (2) (c) under Meaning of Innocent Passage.

        As the Australian P8 spy plane flew over the EEZ of China’s Islands in the South China Sea and violated Article 19 (2) (c) of UNCLOS by conducting spying, then China has the right to intercept the Australian P8. As a signatory it is Australia that needs to respect International Law and the provisions of UNCLOS.

    • Adrian P

      says:

      Australia has a 200 nm EEZ, innocent passage of foreign military jets and warships over the EEZ is allowed but they must conform with the regulations of Australia and are not allowed to conduct military activities like Spying.
      The real solution is to not p in each others backyard and cooperate like we did when looking for MH370 in allowing Ilyushin Il-76s to operate from Perth.

    • Aussie Rob

      says:

      Not true:
      The Potsdam Declaration was intended to be ambiguous. It is not clear from the document itself whether a Japanese government would remain under Allied occupation or the occupation would be run by a foreign military government. In the same manner, it was not clear whether after the end of the occupation, Japan was to include any territory other than the four main Japanese islands. That ambiguity was intentional on the part of the US government to allow the Allies a free hand in running the affairs of Japan afterwards.

      • Robert Chin

        says:

        It is true that “The Potsdam Declaration was intended to be ambiguous” in respect to the post-war management of Japan. But the Potsdam Declaration was very clear that Japan must comply with the terms of the 1943 Cairo Conference that ALL territories stolen from China, such as Manchuria, Formosa and the Pescadores, must be returned to China.

        Formosa (Taiwan) and the Pescadores were stolen by the Japan in 1895 and so were the Diaoyu Islands; Manchuria was stolen in 1931. The Paracel and the Spratly Islands were stolen in 1939 and handed to the Japanese Governor of Formosa for Administration. All these territories except the Diaoyu Islands have since been returned to China.

    • Lynden Kemp

      says:

      Robert what country are you currently residing in?
      Is it Australia?
      If so you must prefer the benefits of a free democracy I suspect??

      • Robert Chin

        says:

        Am I residing in Australia? No. Even if I did I would still stick to facts in any debate.

        Check out the provisions of UNCLOS and you will see that the P8 violated Article 19 (2) (c) by engaging on a spy mission when flying through the EEZ of the Islands in the South China Sea. Can China or Russia legally fly a spy plane through the 200 nm EEZ of Australia? No.

  • This is shocking – it’s as close to firing on our aircraft as you can get!

  • Anthony

    says:

    Are our P8’s similarly equipped to those of the US? The US P8’s are equipped with air to air missiles for defence against aircraft attacking them.

    • James

      says:

      USN P8’s are fitted with LRASM and AGM-84. They aren’t fitted with air-to-air missiles.

  • Martin

    says:

    “over the South China Sea” leaves the operating area where this happened wide open. So not sure how useful it is to have discussion of territorial limits and EEZ’s.

  • Gavin Youl

    says:

    Robert, your ethnic roots seem to be getting the better of your logic. Any nation can fly over or navigate through any other nation’s EEZ. Recently a Chinese surveillance vessel sailed through Australia’s zone, off the west coast.
    There is no doubt as to what the mission was about. Not long ago a Chinese ship aimed a high power laser at an Australian aircraft in international waters. That was a very aggressive act by anyone’s definition.
    However that was nothing compared with the recent act of aggression against the Australian Orion.
    Flying closely in front and releasing chaff is more than an act of aggression, it is an act of war.
    I am sure that is how China would see it if the roles were reversed. And if it was a US plane the J16 pilot would probably be drinking tea with his ancestors right now!
    And while we are at it. Even if you are correct about China’s claims to the Spratleys, they do not have the right to establish military bases on tidal atolls, thereby threatening the passage of ships through the China sea.
    In any case all involved nations of the free world should routinely fly across this region, to keep the air and sea routes open.

    • Robert Chin

      says:

      It is true that “Any nation can fly over or navigate through any other nation’s EEZ” under the provision of UNCLOS Article 17, provided it is an Innocent Passage.

      But all foreign military jets and warships must conform with the regulations of the country with the EEZ and are not allowed to conduct military activities “aimed at collecting information to the prejudice of the defence or security of the coastal State” pursuant to Article 19 (2) (c) under Meaning of Innocent Passage.

      The Australian P8 was on a spying mission and it violated Article 19 (2) (c). Get acquainted with the Provisions UNCLOS before you get on the high horse.

      China does not engage in “threatening the passage of ships through the (South) China Sea” because that’s where the bulk of her trade go through. China is the biggest importer of iron ores from Australia and the Australian freighters sail though the South China Sea unfettered every time.

  • Jeff

    says:

    Australia’s ADF should not tolerate such intimidation by anyone period!
    Maybe our P8 exercises in these areas need an F35 escort to stop any intimidation or agressive manoeuvres by the Chinese towards our aircraft and crew.
    What if the chaff had of bought the P8 down or to the bottom of the ocean?

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