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The U.S. Navy EP-3E surveillance aircraft forced to land at a Chinese air base after being “bumped” in midair was reportedly monitoring Chinese naval maneuvers involving one of Beijing’s newest warships — a Russian-made Sovremenny-class destroyer.
The Taipei Times newspaper said Tuesday that an intelligence source “who had monitored the incident by radar and also listened to cockpit exchanges” also reported that the EP-3E’s escape — after being damaged by one Chinese fighter — was aborted by a second one that “opened fire with its machine gun as a warning.”
Chinese F-8 fighter, of the type that collided with U.S. Navy EP-3E
The source, which was not named by the newspaper, said after one of a pair of Chinese F-8 fighters collided with the EP-3E, the plane attempted to fly away but “was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island” by the second fighter.
China has said the fighter that made contact with the EP-3E crashed in the South China Sea. Beijing has not yet indicated whether the pilot was alive and had been rescued or was still missing.
The source told the Taipei newspaper he believes the EP-3E was forced to land by the Chinese fighter plane at an airport on Hainan.
U.S. officials have said the damage caused by the midair collision — reportedly to one wing and one of the four propeller-driven engines — caused the flight crew to issue a “mayday” and make an emergency landing 70 miles away at Hainan.
The paper said the March 31 mission was not the first time the U.S. Navy or other U.S. intelligence assets have tried to collect information on the Sovremenny-class warship, considered the best in the Chinese navy and dangerous because of its SS-N-22 “Sunburn” anti-ship missiles — said to be one of the best in the world.
New Chinese navy destroyer armed with “Sunburn” missiles
Taiwan’s military radar detected the EP-3E flying in circles in the vicinity of the Sovremenny at a low altitude and at a speed of around 250 km per hour, the paper said.
When the two Chinese jets — which took off from an air base in the Guangdong Province — arrived on station to drive away the American plane, at first the crew did not appear willing to go, the paper said.
“The two jets flew in formation side by side with the EP-3E for some time before one of the planes found it could not fly as slow as the U.S. plane,” the paper said. “The Chinese jet tried to slow down by making a turn, the source said. Its attempt to do so caused the fighter to bump into the U.S. aircraft and then crash into the sea.”
The Taiwanese paper’s report supports a UPI report, published late yesterday, that said the Hainan Island base “is host to one of China’s largest electronic-signals-intelligence complexes. …”
The island base “is manned by experts who can glean critical information on the aircraft’s capabilities if they gain access to the Navy’s EP-3E, also a ‘SIGINT’ collector,” Pentagon sources told the newswire service.
Hainan is also home to a major Chinese satellite-communications intercept facility, said UPI.
A Pentagon spokesman told WorldNetDaily: “There has been no report that we could confirm of any shots being fired.”
The spokesman also said the Pentagon could not assess the validity of other sources, but reiterated that Defense Department officials have not been able to confirm that shots were fired.
China has bought two Soveremenny-class destroyers from Russia, and defense ministry officials have said Beijing may seek to buy as many as four more.
The warships, in comparison to U.S. destroyers, are not in and of themselves more advanced, military analysts say. But the Chinese ships are fitted with ultra-modern “Sunburn” anti-ship missiles, said to be capable of penetrating U.S. shipboard anti-missile defenses.
The new Russian ships, as well as others being purchased or built by China, will form the nucleus of a new, modern “blue water” navy able to project power far from the mainland as U.S. and Western navies have done for decades, Newsline USA reported in January.
Consequently, analysts say, the U.S. is keen to gather as much intelligence about the ships — and China’s sea tactics to employ them — as possible.
The Sovremenny-class ships — at 8,000 tons displaced — are the largest in China’s fleets.
“The Sovremennys give the Chinese navy a punch it has been lacking,” noted Robert Karniol, Asia-Pacific editor of Jane’s Defense Weekly.