Beijing has accused the US of sending a U-2 spy plane into a no-fly zone to “trespass” on live-fire exercises being conducted by China below.
The US high-altitude reconnaissance device entered airspace that Beijing deemed prohibited during exercises by the People’s Liberation Army’s Northern Theater Command on Tuesday, said Wu Qian, a ministry spokesman. Chinese Defense, in a statement.
“The intrusion severely affected China’s normal exercises and training activities, and violated the rules of conduct for aviation and maritime security between China and the United States, as well as relevant international practices,” Wu said.
Two exercises were underway at the Northern Theater Command on Tuesday, according to Chinese state media.
An updated cold war plane
The unarmed U-2 is one of the oldest aircraft in the US inventory. The first model, developed to monitor the military build-up of the Soviet Union at the start of the Cold War, flew in the 1950s. These early models flew at 70,000 feet to stay out of range of anti-aircraft missiles.
But while height was the U-2’s first advantage, it has undergone substantial improvements over the decades to keep its distance as well.
“The U-2s now have long-range surveillance systems. Thus, they can monitor and take images from tens of kilometers away. They have long range electronic and infrared and electro-optical sensors, ”said Schuster.
He said Beijing was focusing on the U-2 story to try to make a political point.
“The Chinese are using the traditional view of U-2s as aerial imagery platforms to present a picture of the dangerous penetration of closed exercise airspace,” Schuster said. “The Chinese could not intercept and back the U-2, but they wanted all collection of their exercise activities. ”
China launched three military exercises on Monday alone in Pacific waters, from the South China Sea in the south to the Bohai Sea in the north. Meanwhile, another exercise ended in the Yellow Sea on Wednesday, according to a China Daily report.
“The past month has seen more military exercises conducted by the PLA than any previous month for many years,” China Daily reported, citing Li Jie, a retired researcher at the Naval Research Academy. of the PLA.
The United States, meanwhile, has stepped up its own military activities in the Pacific.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in July that the US Navy’s freedom of navigation operations, in which US warships sailed near disputed islands occupied by China, were at record levels l last year – and that this pace would continue in 2020.
US Air Force deploys bombers
Esper’s statement came after the U.S. Navy organized exercises involving two aircraft carrier strike groups in the South China Sea, the first time it had done so in six years.
The US Air Force has also been active around the Indo-Pacific, recently sending three of its B-2 stealth bombers to an island base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, as well as B-1 bombers at Andersen Air. Force Base in Guam. .
On August 17, the US Pacific Air Force touted the fact that the B-1s, B-2s, as well as the fighters and jets of the US Navy and the Japanese Air Force Marine Self-Defense Force were all engaged in exercises in the Indo-Pacific in a single 24 hour period.
“These missions demonstrate the ability of the Air Force Global Strike Command to deliver deadly, ready, and long-range strike options to geographic combatant commanders anytime, anywhere,” a Pacific Air Force statement said. .
China says US aviation activity over the South China Sea in particular has been significant.
In an interview with the state-run Xinhua News Agency in early August, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused Washington of sending 2,000 military flights over the South China Sea in the first half of this year. . That would be a rate of almost 11 per day.
US officials have not confirmed these figures.
“There has been no significant change in our military operations in or around the South China Sea,” said Major Randy Ready, spokesman for the US Indo-Pacific Command. “Although the frequency and scope of our operations vary depending on the current operating environment, the United States has a persistent military presence and regularly operates throughout the Indo-Pacific, including waters and airspace. surrounding the South China Sea, just as we have done for over a century. ”
Tensions have also intensified over Taiwan. In August, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar visited Taipei – the highest US official to visit in decades – and the sale of 66 US F-16 fighter jets to the autonomous island has been finalized.
During Azar’s visit, the PLA sent fighter jets across the middle line of the Taiwan Strait that separates Taiwan from the mainland – only the third time it has done so on purpose since 1999.
“Fast Track” American Defense Strategy
This week, Esper wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal claiming that the United States is “stepping up” its National Defense Strategy (NDS).
“The NDS guides our efforts to adapt and modernize the US military to compete with the great powers, with China being our primary focus,” Esper wrote.
The US defense chief said the PLA was a tool of the Chinese Communist Party.
Esper’s shutdown in Hawaii will take place as the United States wraps up the RIMPAC biennial exercises in Hawaii. Usually the largest naval exercises in the world, they have been cut back this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with just 10 countries participating.