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Chinese J-16 Seen ‘Head Butting’ U.S. RC-135 in Cockpit Video

U.S. Department of Defense screencap
U.S. Department of Defense screencap

A People’s Liberation Army J-16 Flanker multirole fighter performed an “unnecessarily aggressive” maneuver close to a U.S. Air Force RC-135 surveillance plane over the South China Sea recently, according to the Pentagon. The incident is the latest in a string of encounters between the Chinese military and that of the United States and its allies in these hotly contested waters, with recent previous examples including a simulated attack on a U.S. Navy task group and a close proximity intercept of another RC-135 by a Chinese J-11 Flanker fighter, both last December.

According to a statement from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM), in the latest incident, which happened on May 26, 2023, the pilot of the PLA J-16 “flew directly in front of the nose of the RC-135, forcing the U.S. aircraft to fly through its wake turbulence.” This term describes the disturbed airflow that an aircraft trails behind it and which can cause a plane following it to enter a roll, with a potentially dangerous outcome, if the crew is not prepared.

USINDOPACOM further says that the RC-135 was “conducting safe and routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace, in accordance with international law.”

The RC-135 in question may have been the aircraft shown in the tweet below, serial number 64-14841, an RC-135V Rivet Joint that was active over the South China Sea on May 26, based on data provided by open-source flight tracking websites.

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