Did Taiwan Rescue a U.S. Spy Plane?
By WENDELL MINNICK
The U.S. Pacific Command did not respond to inquiries about the incident.
An MND source said it is not Taiwan's duty to protect U.S. surveillance aircraft and the incident is not considered serious.
"There is a line between the two sides, and if any Chinese aircraft flies too close, we will respond," he said. "If they cross the line, we treat it as a hostile act, but occasionally they fly close to the line, and to be honest, this happens all the time and is not a real problem."
The June 29 incident was an "unintentional" and "inadvertent" incursion by Chinese fighter aircraft, he said. "The Chinese military has no intention of antagonizing Taiwan" because relations across the Strait are "calm" and there is "no reason for trouble."
The news comes as Taipei pushes the U.S. to release 66 F-16C/D fighters. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced last week that Washington would make a final decision on the fighters by Oct. 1.
Local media reports said the Su-27s were trying to catch a U-2 spy plane conducting a surveillance mission out of Osan Air Base, South Korea. The reports said the U-2 diverted to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, to avoid the Chinese fighters.
But surveillance aircraft specialist Chris Pocock was skeptical. There are only three U-2s based in East Asia, all at Osan, to watch North Korea, Pocock said.
"They may also fly southwards along the China coast as far as Taiwan, but not on a routine basis," he said.
The aircraft might have been a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries or U.S. Air Force RC-135, which operate at lower altitudes and have been harassed by Chinese fighters in the past.
In 2000, two Chinese J-8 fighters intercepted a U.S. Air Force RC-135 in international airspace above the East China Sea. A year later, a J-8 fighter collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries near Hainan Island in the South China Sea.
Despite Chinese complaints, the U.S. surveillance aircraft flies regular missions along China's coastline. They stay in international airspace because straying into Chinese territory would make them easy targets for S-300PMU-1/2 and Hongqi-10 surface-to-air missiles.
During the Cold War, Taiwan's Black Bat 34th Squadron flew similar missions with three P-3A Orion signals intelligence aircraft. As well, China shot down five U-2 spy planes operated by Taiwan's Black Cat 35th Squadron over Chinese territory. Both programs were handled by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Taiwan will soon take delivery of 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft for anti-submarine patrols. The aircraft will replace aging Grumman S-2T Tracker anti-submarine aircraft. Taiwan technically has two squadrons of the S-2T, but sources say that only a handful are still operational.
Taiwan has attempted to procure signals intelligence aircraft in the past from the U.S., but procurement problems and budget delays have hampered the acquisition. Taiwan has one EC-130 for surveillance operations, but it is limited in mission scope.