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

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.


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. 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?

    • 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…

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

    • 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.

    • 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

  2. 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

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

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

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