China’s air force planned to impose the controversial air defense identification zone several years ago to assert territorial control and counter U.S. aerial spying, defense officials tell Inside the Ring.
Internal Chinese military writings reveal that a nationwide air defense zone was under consideration as early as 2008 as part of China’s efforts to assert control over large areas of international waters in northeast Asia, the East China Sea and South China Sea.
One Chinese air force report said the main goal of the zone is to assert territorial claims and drive U.S. and Japanese reconnaissance aircraft away from the coast as part of an effort to protect military secrets.
The air force internal research paper from October 2008 stated that China needed a “national” air defense zone to secure China’s “territorial seas” to counter “constant, fierce contention” of the surrounding seas.
Another key element of the zone is to monitor and “drive away” U.S. reconnaissance aircraft that conduct frequent “spying and disruptive activities” along the coast.
Asked Wednesday what was behind the air defense zone, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, “I don’t know.”
In 2001, a Chinese J-8 fighter crashed into a U.S. EP-3 surveillance aircraft flying some 70 miles off the Chinese coast, setting off a crisis for the new administration of President George W. Bush.
China held the 24-member EP-3 crew captive after it made an emergency landing on Hainan Island. The military then forced the Pentagon to cut up the aircraft for removal after closely examining the remaining spy gear on board.
Chinese air force efforts to conduct patrols and intercepts in the contested air defense zone extending nearly 100 miles into the Pacific are being watched closely by U.S. military intelligence monitors.
According to the officials, in recent days the Chinese air force dispatched Su-30 and J-11 fighters as well as KJ-2000 airborne warning aircraft into the zone, which overlaps Japan’s air zone over the disputed Senkaku Islands.
The U.S. military has concluded that those aircraft are capable of detecting and intercepting aircraft that fly into the zone.
Numerous U.S. and Japanese fighters, reconnaissance, maritime patrol and early warning aircraft have flown into the zone since Nov. 23 without giving prior notification as China is demanding, officials said. Two B-52 strategic bombers also flew through the zone in a show of force.
Chinese military aircraft are not expected to conduct round-the-clock operations to enforce the zone, the officials said. Instead the Chinese are expected to rely on airborne and ground-based radar to monitor the area. Interceptor jets from air bases along the coast will be tasked to scramble for some intercepts.
China’s imposition of the contested air defense zone over the East China Sea has not halted U.S. military surveillance flights, including regular flights by EP-3 high-tech spying aircraft, defense officials said.