Audio and Video of the U.S. P-8A aircraft defying China’s Navy warnings to leave airspace over disputed islands

May 22 2015 - 24 Comments

A P-8A Poseidon from Patrol Squadron (VP) 45 captures surveillance footage of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) conducting land reclamation operations in the South China Sea.

On May 20, a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft belonging to Patrol Squadron (VP) 45 conducted a routing surveillance flight over the South China Sea, where has started building an airstrip on the disputed Spratly Islands in the waters claimed by the Philippines.

During the flight, the crew of the P-8A documented several warnings, issued by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), most probably on the International Emergency (“Guard”) frequency 121.5 MHz, to leave the area as the U.S. military plane was approaching their military alert zone.

Interestingly, the U.S. aircraft replies to the Chinese Navy operators urging it to leave their area “quickly” as follows:

“Station calling U.S. military plane, please identify yourself”.

Then, after receiving confirmation that it was a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) operator, the answer is always the same: “I’m a U.S. military aircraft conducting lawful military activities outside national airspace; I’m operating with due regard as required under International Law.”

The audio seems to be disturbed by some kind of jamming.

Anyway, according to the U.S. Navy, the P-8 mission documented the continued expansion of reefs which have been turned into man-made islands with airport infrastructure in the South China Sea.


  • InklingBooks

    Love that U.S. Navy guy and later the girl, apparently the pilot and co-pilot. Both know how to keep their cool and not be drawn into an argument when the other side is trying to sound threatening.

    Those noises don’t sound like jamming, which would continue even when no one was transmitting. They come with transmissions. Some are just hums in the audio or heterodynes that result when two AM signals are on the air at the same time but slightly different frequencies. One sounded like an alarm was being picked up by a mike. All in all, quite clumsy, undisciplined radio work.

    I definitely don’t the impression from those radio transmissions that China has sent its best and brightest to these islands. It may even be a punishment posting. That’s not good, since it might mean they do something stupid. We need to be firm but careful.

    Judging by the video, the U.S. aircraft seems to have flown within a few miles of these islands. Does anyone know what international laws says about close flybys?

    • CharleyA

      The flights were in accordance with ICAO rules in international airspace. The Chinese are attempting to build “sovereign” territory, presumably to annex the SCS as territorial waters. A bit clumsy…

    • yrrah

      There is a lot of grey area so it ends up being determined by politics and posturing.

    • Bill Jenkins

      From what I’ve read, these are not “islands”…they were submerged reefs which were built up, and as such are not recognized as islands. The Chinese military does not have the ability to declare this their “home” airspace, at least under international law, any more than they could park a cargo ship in the middle of the ocean, call it an “island” and tell people they couldn’t fly over it.

    • kqn

      These are artificial islands China builds on top of reefs. Those reefs are Fiery Cross (mostly shown in the USN and CNN videos), Cuarteron, Subi, Gaven, Johnson South, Hughes and MIschief in the Spratly island chain. On Fiery Cross (and also on Subi) China is building 3000 meters runway.
      According to UN oceans and laws of the seas, article 60 covers rocks, artificial islands within the EEZ( Exclusive Economic zone), An EEZ is 200 miles beyond a states’ coast line. Subi, the northernmost reef China is building on lies ~1100km from China’s Hainan island.
      From these laws, artificial islands do not have rights to claim an EEZ. The sovereign state who owns these rocks within their EEZ can claim a safety zone of 500m. The USN P8 clearly abides International laws

  • vincemarkton

    if there was ever a real reason to test a nuke for the 2000th plus time, this would be it…after all of the horror of ww2 in the Philippines, to let china just walk in and build airways???wtf ? this is why we fought on all of those fucking reefs scattered all over the south pacific when the not so imperial japanese were doing the same thing… just piss on all of the graves of the people who died there fighting to stop commie assholes from infecting the world any more than they have

    • Jan Schmidt

      r.i.p. “downwinders”

  • Business traveller

    Is that an ELT i can hear in the background beebing at the 0:29 minute mark?

  • Roland Lawrence

    A far cry from the days of the plucky Brits and their old Shackletons! The P8 does look like one fancy bit of kit :)

  • Ben

    An australian accent at 6:48

  • TurnipT

    Were the chinese playing Pacman in the background?

  • ArmyAviator

    Shouldn’t that US pilot be fired for his insolence? I mean, the Chinese Navy afterall, they wouldn’t lie or anything…would they? I mean, didn’t 0bama and BiteMe BOTH tell us how great the Chinese are and that they are not a threat to us, like GLOBAL WARMING is?

  • Jan Schmidt

    The dispute over the south china sea islands is a long and tedious story. China has claims as do vietnam, taiwan, the phillipines, brunei, indonesia and malaysia. Name of game is resources and strategic control of sea lanes.
    According to UNCLOS, artificial islands do not afford the occupying nation territorial waters.

    * Per article 60 of UNCLOS:
    Artificial islands, installations and structures and the safety zones around them may not be established where interference may be caused to the use of recognized sea lanes essential to international navigation.
    Artificial islands, installations and structures do not possess the status of islands. They have no territorial sea of their own,
    and their presence does not affect the delimitation of the territorial
    sea, the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf.

    The United States purports to defend the freedom of navigation in a
    manner consistent with international law. In this context, the fact that
    the United States has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the
    Law of Sea (UNCLOS) is somewhat problematic. Also ASEAN can solve the dispute without interference from imperial powers.

  • kqn

    Well, we learn today that China tried to jam and possibly bring down a Global Hawk over the Spratly islands. USN may have to defend our UAVs in international airspace.

    President Xi’s state visit to DC in September 2015 is going to be an interesting one.

    • MichaelMao

      I think China tried to jam a global hawk but failed. No hawk down in Spratly area. Xi’s visit in September will surely be interesting.

  • One Cyclone or Hurricane Later…there will be nothing left of what they built, and if there is..Arc Light, Arc Light, 99.167’N,115,5333′ E

    • Michael Rich

      Arclight was a canceled program.

      • There is cancelled and ”cancelled”. One program is cancelled and another is renamed and continues. So the only question is…do you have a need to know?

        • Michael Rich

          yea okay you keep thinking that.

  • Cocidius

    We know from the USS Fortworth’s encounter with a Type 54A Frigate five days before this overflight that that a least one of these Frigates is already in the area.

    Type 54A’s have the HQ-16 SAM which is a improved Chinese clone of the Buk SAM system which is quite a dangerous missile to US aircraft.

    Long story short the missiles are already there aboard the Chinese Naval vessels which makes these overflights pretty damn gutsy!

    • tjohn6041

      With that in mind, I do wander at the wisdom of these flights. I understand that these are in international waters, and we don’t want to appear passive (at least not as passive as we have been). It is always a fine between standing ground and escalation; and what you can legally do vs what is smart to do

  • Bez

    Why was an American plane sent close to China?

    • sferrin

      It wasn’t.

  • sferrin

    Don’t worry, the US has already capitulated.

    “Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said the United States does not
    recognize China’s sovereignty claims over the new islands. He added that
    flights and Navy ships will continue their routine patrols, but will
    maintain a distance of at least 12 miles from the island.”

    We’re already honoring their land grab. Disgusting.