Two Chinese warplanes intercepted an American spy plane over the tense Taiwan Strait last month in China’s most aggressive challenge to U.S. surveillance flights since a 2001 collision that touched off an international crisis.
According to defense officials, the intercept took place June 29. The two Chinese jets flew from a base in China to head off an Air Force U-2 spy plane over the dividing line in the 100-mile wide Taiwan Strait.
“In general, these reconnaissance flights are conducted in international airspace, as are the PRC [Chinese] intercepts, which happen fairly routinely,” said a Pentagon official familiar with the incident.
“There is no ‘repel’ aspect to them,” he said of reports from Asia that the Chinese jets had “repelled” the U-2 flight during the intercept.
A Pacific Command spokesman declined to provide details of the incident other than to say it occurred June 29 as the Air Force was conducting a routine operation in international airspace in the area of the East China Sea.
Other officials said the U-2 had taken off from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa as part of a routine surveillance program of China.
The Chinese Su-27 jets tried to follow the U-2 as it flew south along the western dividing line on the Taiwan Strait.
According to the officials, at one point the Su-27s split up in pursuing the U-2. One jet turned back before crossing the median line, and the second continued across the line until two Taiwanese F-16s took off to intercept it.
It is not known how the Su-27s were able to follow the U-2, which normally flies at much higher altitudes than the warplanes...