A US spy plane flying near the eastern coast of China was intercepted by two Chinese fighter jets and had to change course, US officials said. The surveillance aircraft was flying over international waters between China and South Korea.
The incident took place on Sunday, unnamed US officials told reporters on Monday. An EP-3 ARIES signals intelligence plane was flying about 90 miles (140km) south of the port city of Qingdao, when it was approached by two J-10 interceptors, armed with air-to-air missiles.
One of the Chinese jets flew under the EP-3 and popped up 300 feet (90 meters) in front of the US plane, causing the crew “to take evasive action to avoid collision,” according to one official.
The US Navy described the flight as “a routine mission operating in accordance with international law” up until the “interaction” between the spy plane and the Chinese interceptors.
“While we are still investigating the incident, initial reports from the US aircrew characterized the intercept as unsafe,” said Lieutenant-Commander Matt Knight, Pacific Fleet spokesman. “The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels.”
The US armed forces have recently stepped up their activity in the region, provoking anger in China. In early July, Beijing accused Washington of violating China’s sovereignty and international law after a US missile destroyer sailed some 30 kilometers from the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea with Beijing sending warplanes and military vessels to intercept the ship.
This is the third time in recent months that Chinese interceptors have warned off US spy planes flying off the coast of China. In late May, as the US Navy sailed near disputed islands in the South China Sea, two Chinese jets buzzed a P-3 Orion 150 miles (240km) southeast of Hong Kong in what US officials called an “unsafe intercept.”
A week earlier, Chinese jets intercepted a US Air Force WC-135 Constant Phoenix “nuclear sniffer” plane over the East China Sea.
South Korean officials have not confirmed any military action against the submarine.
On Thursday CNN cited two unnamed US defense officials saying that a submarine from Pyongyang had been exhibiting “unusual deployment activity.” Using reconnaissance imagery, officials were reportedly able to determine that the sub had gone further into international waters than it ever had before.
The Johns Hopkins University-based institute added that the "Sinpo-class submarine and a submersible test stand barge have been repositioned" at the Sinpo shipyard, which could indicate a future missile test.
Hidden away in medical devices stored on a college campus in Mosul were two quantities of cobalt-60, a synthetic radioactive isotope produced artificially in nuclear reactors. The isotope emits gamma rays at high intensity, making it effective in radiotherapy cancer treatments, however its high radioactivity also makes it perfect for a “dirty bomb,” or a weapon that uses conventional explosives to disperse radioactive materials across a targeted area, making it uninhabitable.
In Washington, intelligence agencies were aware of the presence of the substance in Mosul and kept a close watch for any sign of its use, while nuclear and military experts theorized about the potency of the isotope and the potential damage it could do. Since cobalt degrades over time, its exact potency was not known to the experts.