U.S. and China Agree To Rules For Air-To-Air Intercepts

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

With President Xi Jinping in the U.S. for a state dinner, hardcore diplomacy is underway trying to solve some very big problems — one of them relating to the sometimes dangerous intercepts of American surveillance aircraft operating in international airspace. Now, it looks like Beijing and Washington have come up with a way of potentially stopping such incidents in the future.

The problem is nothing new, as Chinese jets aggressively maneuvered around U.S. military aircraft operating near the Chinese territory for years. On April 1, 2001 a collision between a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aeries spy aircraft and a Chinese J-8 fighter made for a huge, Cold War-like diplomatic flash point. Almost 15 years later, aggressive Chinese intercepts are still a major concern, and the problem seems to be getting worse as Chinese-U.S. relations sputter.


With this in mind, both sides have supposedly agreed to new set of rules for air-to-air intercepts. These include everything from the way each aircraft is to physically perform in close proximity to another to the proper radio frequencies to use during distress calls. Even the crews’ gestures and radio language will be tightly controlled under this new agreement.

A new emergency hotline will also be set up to provide communications between high-level military personnel in each country at a moment’s notice. The hope is that by having such a capability in place, a situation or misunderstanding can be de-escalated before becoming highly volatile.


You can find drafts of both agreements here and here.

It will be interesting to see if these initiatives are followed once put to the test. If they are, it would mark a significant development in U.S.-Chinese military relations. If they are not closely adhered to by the Chinese, it would be a clear sign that they have no intention of following through with any military-to-military agreements. Such a failed test would be especially troubling, considering that even larger issues like cyber attacks, hacking and electronic intellectual property theft — all tactics that China has been deploying with fervor over the last decade — may not be solvable via written agreements. As such, the only other option would be military inaction or reaction, both of which could end badly for both parties.


Photo: Top via DoD release, bottom via AP

Sources: Taipai Times, Channelnewsasia.com