• A Royal Australian Air Force Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft conducts air warfare training with HMAS Parramatta at sea. (Defence)
    A Royal Australian Air Force Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft conducts air warfare training with HMAS Parramatta at sea. (Defence)

Australia has accused China of conducting a dangerous intercept of a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P-8A Poseidon multi-mission aircraft in late May, with Australia’s Defence Minister subsequently saying that the Chinese jet released decoys that were ingested by the P-8A’s engine.

Defence issued a statement early on Sunday saying that the incident occurred in international airspace over the South China Sea on the 26th of May, adding that the P-8A was intercepted by a Chinese Shenyang J-16 while conducting “routine maritime surveillance activity”.

It added that the intercept then “resulted in a dangerous manoeuvre which posed a safety threat” to the RAAF aircraft and crew and that the Australian government has raised its concerns with its Chinese counterpart over this incident.

Defence Minister Richard Marles later provided more details about the intercept when questioned about it on TV, saying that the J-16 flew alongside the P-8 and released flares before accelerating and cutting across the front of the RAAF aircraft and settling in front of it at “very close distance” and releasing “a bundle of chaff which contained small pieces of aluminium, some of which were ingested into the engine of the P-8 aircraft.”

He added that “obviously, this was very dangerous” but that the RAAF crew were all unharmed and praised them for responding professionally during the incident.

Publicly accessible data from flight tracking website Planefinder showed that the aircraft involved was almost certainly P-8A A47-008. It was one of two RAAF P-8s operating out of Clark Airbase in the Philippines on the date, and flight tracking data showed it taking off and returning from the southwest of the airfield on the 26th of May.

The P-8, operating under the callsign AUSSIE189 (ASY189) took off at about 0100 GMT (11am Canberra) time that morning before landing just before 0540 GMT (3.40pm Canberra time) that afternoon, after circling over nearby Angeles city for about an hour.

A47-008 then did not fly again until the 3rd of June, when it undertook another flight following a similar profile to the South China Sea. In the meantime flights from Clark were flown by the other aircraft, A47-007 which flew on the 27th and 30th of May and again on the 2nd of June.

These included another flight towards the South China Sea on the 27th of  May.

However, the RAAF P-8s did not just fly to the South China Sea during this deployment from Clark, with data showing they also undertook flights to the east towards the Philippine Sea and south to the Makassar Strait on multiple occasions.

The origin of the J-16, which are only operated by the PLAAF, is unknown. The nearest permanent fighter units to the South China Sea are based on the island province of Hainan, although these are PLA Navy aircraft and are not known to operate J-16s.

Instead the fighter would likely to have been from a temporary detachment operating from one of China’s airfields on the South China Sea islands such as the one on Woody Island in the Paracels, where China has sent rotating fighter detachments to in the past.

The J-16 is an Chinese development of the Russian Su-30MK multi-role combat aircraft fitted with indigenous avionics and engines. 

The news of this intercept came after Canada accused China of similarly dangerous intercepts of its CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol aircraft, with reports in Canada’s Global News accusing Chinese military interceptors of coming close enough to flash their middle fingers at the Canadians. 

The CP-140, which is the Canadian designation for the Lockheed P-3 Orion, is currently monitoring North Korean sanctions-busting efforts at sea under Operation Neon. 

The RAAF has also deployed its P-8s for that mission under Operation Argos, and ADM is currently awaiting a response from Defence about whether its aircraft have also been intercepted in a dangerous fashion during that mission. 

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