The Pentagon on Tuesday released more than a dozen previously classified photos and videos of “coercive, high-risk” interactions with Chinese fighter jets that have occurred since early 2022. The surge of incidents, Defense Department officials say, is causing concern that any accident that may result could spark active conflict between the U.S. and China.
The release is a subset of roughly 180 similar interactions with Chinese fighters since fall 2021, Ely Ratner, the Pentagon’s top civil official on China and Indo-Pacific issues, told reporters during a briefing Tuesday.
The sharp increase represents “more [incidents] in the past two years than in the decade before that,” Ratner added. The Washington Post was first to report on the material’s release.
The Pentagon called the incidents “coercive” and “high-risk” rather than the more frequently used “unsafe and unprofessional” terminology, though Ratner declined to list the criteria that separate the two classifications.
“In other words, flying off my wing at 15 feet for 45 minutes has too much of a chance to lead to an accident,” Navy Adm. John Aquilino, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, offered as an example.
The declassified images and videos include “reckless maneuvers, close approaches at high speeds in the air, releasing objects and projectiles like flares, and other dangerous behavior,” according to a Pentagon release.
The Pentagon believes these confrontations are part of a strategy on the part of the Chinese military, Aquilino added.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has spoken privately with his Chinese counterparts about the interactions “when he’s had the opportunity to do that,” Ratner said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.