Pentagon releases footage of hundreds of 'highly concerning' aircraft intercepts by Chinese planes

FILE - A U.S. Navy plane passes by a Chinese flag as it flies over the areas of Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin Shoal, at the disputed South China Sea while Chinese coast guard ships tries to block Philippine coast guard and supply ships during a rotation and resupply mission on Aug. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon has released footage of some of the more than 180 intercepts of U.S. warplanes by Chinese aircraft that have occurred in the last two years — more than the total amount over the previous decade and part of a trend U.S. military officials called concerning.

The photos and video were released in advance of a soon-to-be issued annual report by the Pentagon on the China’s military power and the security threats it may pose to partners in the Indo-Pacific.

The Pentagon has tried for years to posture itself to be ready for a potential conflict with China over Taiwan even as it now finds itself supporting allies in two hot wars, Ukraine in Europe and Israel in the Middle East.

Admiral John Acquilino, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said at a Pentagon press briefing Tuesday that despite the U.S. surging carrier strike groups and amphibious ships to support Israel, and now almost 20 months of war in Ukraine, the command has what it needs to deter China.

“I haven’t had one piece of equipment or force structure depart" his command, he said, referring to ships, aircraft and military units. “We have been taking a number of steps to strengthen our commitment to the region, strengthen our deterrence in the region and we will continue to do that."

The officials said the Chinese flights were risky and aggressive in nature, but stopped short of calling most of them unsafe — a specific term that is used only in the most egregious cases. Still the officials said it was important to release the footage and call out the behavior because they said it was part of a larger trend of regional intimidation by China that could accidentally lead to conflict.

“All of these examples we’ve released today underscore the coercive intent of (China) by engaging in behaviors particularly in international airspace,” said Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs. “The bottom line is that in many cases, this type of operational behavior can cause active and dangerous accidents" and can lead inadvertently to conflict, Ratner said.