U.S. Flies Spy Plane Closest It Ever Has To China’s Airspace

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U.S. Flies Spy Plane Closest It Ever Has To China's Airspace

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On March 22nd, a US spy plane set a new record of flying the closest to Chinese airspace, ever.

At least according to public data, the 25.33 nautical miles’ distance is the closest on record.

The RC-135U, serial number 64-14849, which was visible using online flight-tracking websites under the transponder code AE01D5, had been preceded by a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and an EP-3E Aries II intelligence-gathering plane operating in the South China Sea, all in the course of March 22, the SCS Probing Initiative noted in a Tweet.

The RC-135U, of which the Air Force has just two, is specifically configured to gather electronic and signals intelligence, with a particular focus on collecting data regarding adversaries’ radars and air defense networking nodes.

This type of aircraft collects information about electronic signatures to help commanders build so-called “electronic orders of battle” detailing the disposition of an opponent’s air defenses. This includes detecting and classifying threat emitters, and pinpointing their locations, among other electronic intelligence-gathering capabilities.

Days earlier, likely the same RC-135U was spotted above the Spratly Islands.

A report was earlier published by the SCSPI on US Military operations in the South China Sea in 2020.

The report can be found here. [pdf]

Even though COVID-19 wreaked havoc worldwide in 2020, the US military continued to carry out intensive military activities in the South China Sea, with their strategic weapon platforms, typically carrier strike groups, strategic bombers and nuclear attack submarines, operating in the region frequently, posing unprecedented deterrence against China. In the meantime, the US Navy and Air Force continued to conduct frequent reconnaissance operations in the region, deploying a mix of reconnaissance aircraft, including those of civilian contractors, to the South China Sea, all of which built up strong momentum for battlefield construction and warfighting readiness across the US military.

The report concluded the following:

“In 2020, the US military exerted maximum pressure in the South China Sea through a raft of intensive moves, such as deploying various strategic weapons platforms to the region, frequently operating near China’s stationed islands and reefs and transiting the Taiwan Strait, in an attempt to display its military power and deter China. However, the US is gradually losing such military dominance in the Western Pacific despite its evident military superiority globally, as China has been delivering much more targeted and effective countermeasures. Overreactions and excessive deterrence of the US military will not contribute to peace or stability of the region.”

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