China tried to electronically jam US drone flights over the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) in order to prevent surveillance on man-made islands Beijing is constructing as a part of an aggressive land reclamation initiative, US officials said.
Global Hawk long-range surveillance drones were targeted by jamming in at least one incident near the Spratly Islands, where China is building military facilities on kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
The reported incident follows Thursday reports that the Chinese navy warned a US surveillance aircraft to leave the same area eight times in an apparent effort to establish and enforce a no-fly zone, a demand Washington rejected.
The US Navy has released footage taken from the P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane, which received several warnings from the Chinese military to retreat as it flew over the South China Sea — home to vital shipping lanes.
The footage showed a flotilla of vessels carrying out reclamation works in one lagoon, and an airstrip under construction on another island.
A CNN crew on board captured a tense radio exchange between the US aircraft and Chinese forces.
“This is the Chinese navy… This is the Chinese navy… Please go away… to avoid misunderstanding,” a voice can be heard telling the Americans.
The Chinese navy issued eight such warnings during the P-8’s flight near Fiery Cross Reef, one of the sites of Beijing’s land reclamation effort, CNN reported.
American pilots replied in each case that they were flying through “international airspace”.
“This is the Chinese navy … This is the Chinese navy … Please go away … to avoid misunderstanding,” a radio call in English from an installation on Fiery Cross said. The warnings were reported by CNN, which had a crew on the aircraft.
US Vice President Joe Biden criticized China on Friday for unilaterally claiming disputed islands in the South China Sea through such means as pushing ahead with massive reclamation work despite international objections.
“We do unapologetically stand up for the equitable and peaceful resolution of disputes and for the freedom of navigation,” Biden said in an address at a graduation ceremony at the Naval Academy in Maryland.
“Today these principles are being tested by Chinese activities in the South China Sea,”
Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said the United States does not recognize China’s sovereignty claims over the new islands. He added that flights and US Navy ships will continue their routine patrols, but will maintain a distance of at least 12 miles from the island.
Buildup of forces
Details of the drone interference are classified, but last week, David Shear, the assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said Global Hawks are deployed in Asia as one element of a buildup of forces near the South China Sea.
“We’re engaged in a long-term effort to bolster our capabilities in the region,” Shear told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Just a few examples of the increases in our capabilities in the region include the deployment of Global Hawks and F-35s. Soon we will be adding to the stock of V-22s in Japan as well.”
Shear said the Pentagon estimates that China will complete construction of an airfield on Fiery Cross Reef by 2017 or 2018.
Meanwhile, rapid militarization has security experts worried about the potential for a conflict.
Rick Fisher, a China military affairs analyst, said China could increase pressure on the United States to halt surveillance flights in Asia by first attacking one of the unmanned aircraft flights.
“Though UAVs like the Global Hawk are rather expensive, they are also regarded as more expendable because they are unmanned,” Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, told the Washington Free Beacon.
“But failing to defend these UAVs runs the risk of China viewing them as ‘fair game’ to shoot down whenever they please.”
Beijing also might attempt to capture a Global Hawk by causing one to crash in shallow water, or by attempting to snatch one in flight using a manned aircraft, Fisher said.
China on Friday declared victory over an encounter with a US surveillance aircraft overflying the contested West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), saying its military “drove away” the intruder with radio warnings.
Beijing is in the throes of a rapid land-reclamation program in the area, building artificial islands and facilities including an airstrip — raising tensions with Washington and the risk of a standoff on the high seas.
China regards almost the whole of the South China Sea as its own and the foreign ministry condemned the overflight as “highly irresponsible and dangerous”, warning that such actions could cause “unwanted incidents”.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing in Beijing: “China garrison troops drove it away by radio in accordance with relevant regulations.
“US actions have posed threats to the security of Chinese maritime features, it is highly likely to cause unwanted incidents, it’s highly irresponsible and dangerous. We are strongly dissatisfied with this.”
He urged the US not to take “any risky and provocative actions”, saying China would “take proper and necessary measures to guard against any harm to China’s maritime features and incidents in waters and airspace,” he added.
China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, played part of the CNN footage showing the Chinese navy ordering the US plane out of the area with Chinese subtitles.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling for a peaceful solution to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where China’s assertiveness has alarmed its smaller neighbors.
Ban told reporters in Hanoi on Friday that he Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang discussed regional security concerns, including the South China Sea. He said he had consistently called on all parties to resolve their disputes through dialogue and in conformity with international law.
Vietnam, along with the Philippines, is one of the most vocal critics of China’s activities in the disputed waters, where Beijing has begun creating artificial islands through massive land reclamation. Other claimants include Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Ban says it is important to avoid actions that could provoke or exacerbate tensions in the region.
PNA AND AFP