The Pentagon is investigating what one of their Air Force WC-135 pilots called an ‘unprofessional’ maneuver when a pair of Chinese Su-30 fighter jets intercepted their aircraft last week. Known as a ‘sniffer’ the WC-135W Constant Phoenix is a specially equipped derivative of the C-135 aircraft with the mission of collecting samples from the atmosphere to detect nuclear explosions.
“The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels,” said U.S. Air Force spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Lori Hodge.
Hodge said the U.S. characterization of the incident was based on initial reports from the U.S. air crew aboard the WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft “due to the maneuvers by the Chinese pilot, as well as the speeds and proximity of both aircraft”.
“Distances always have a bearing on how we characterize interactions,” Hodge said, adding a U.S. military investigation into the intercept was under way. – Reuters
The Pentagon said the WC-135 was on a routine mission and operating legally in international airspace. It would make sense that this aircraft was in the area keeping an eye on possible North Korean nuclear activity.
China is challenging the US claims and says that their intercept was legitimate as well as ‘professional and safe.’
There are two WC-135 jets in the Air Force’s arsenal and they deploy out of Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.
Featured image of a WC-135 Constant Phoenix engine cover by Susan A. Romano, US Air Force