In light of the news that Chinese fighters conducted what the Pentagon calls an 'unsafe intercept' of one of its reconnaissance aircraft flying over the South China Sea on Tuesday (according to the US, the Chinese jets flew within 50 ft of the the American plane, forcing it to descend), it is worth revisiting an Interpreter piece by eminent American security analyst Bonnie Glaser from September last year on the then-newly agreed US-China accord on 'Rules of Behavior for Safety of Air-to-Air Encounters.'
It was an agreement which was supposed to put a stop to these kinds of incidents. Here's one interesting extract from Glaser's piece:
Especially noteworthy is the section that establishes responsibilities for aircraft when an intercept takes place. According to the agreement, the aircraft commander initiating the intercept should maintain safe separation while the operator of the aircraft being intercepted should avoid reckless maneuvers. The distance between aircraft that constitutes safe separation is not spelled out; rather it is dependent on circumstances. While this is sensible, it leaves split-second decisions up to the discretion of Chinese fighter pilots, who often lack experience.
It's important to note that we so far only have the American version of what occurred on this occasion. The Chinese statement will no doubt differ.
Speaking of aerial shows of strength, the Pentagon has just released more footage of Russian fighter-bombers and helicopters buzzing a US Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea on 11 and 12 April. (H/t Alert 5.)