Tags: Major | Intelligence | Coup | for | China

Major Intelligence Coup for China

Sunday, 01 April 2001 12:00 AM

U.S. forces are on heightened alert after a game of aerial chicken turned deadly over the South China Sea.

A U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II spy plane was forced to land inside China on Sunday after colliding with a People's Liberation Army Air Force jet fighter 62 miles southeast of Hainan Island.

According to Chinese sources, a PLAAF J-8 fighter was lost in the bumping incident and its pilot has not been recovered. The incident set off a firestorm of criticism aimed at both Beijing and the Bush administration.

One source was more than critical of the lack of military cover given to the slow-flying EP-3 four-engine spy plane.

"This aircraft is referred to as a 'high-value asset,' " stated a current U.S. military fighter pilot. "I escorted them in the gulf during operation Desert Shield."

"That there wasn't enough advance warning that there were Chinese fighters airborne and in a position to intercept this aircraft sounds a lot like the recent USS Kitty Hawk incident where the aircraft carrier was overflown by Russian fighter-bombers," stated the U.S. military pilot.

"The pilot should have put this airplane in the drink," he concluded in disgust.

The capture of the EP-3 Aries spy plane is considered a major victory for the Chinese Army "2nd Branch" of the PLA signals division. In addition, several of the 24 crew members in Chinese custody are described as electronics specialists serving with the elite National Security Agency, or NSA.

"This is a serious incident," stated Chalmers Johnson, president of the Japanese Policy Research Institute. "The thing that struck me the most was that this flight originated from Kadena in Okinawa."

"I doubt we will ever get the plane back, and if we do it will be after the Chinese have taken it apart piece by piece," said Johnson.

"This is very serious," agreed Larry Wortzel, director of the Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Institute, in an interview from Seoul, South Korea.

"The U.S. has conducted such routine reconnaissance flights for years. This is nothing like [Francis Gary] Powers. He was over Soviet airspace. This was in international airspace. The PRC has objected to these flights for years and flown close."

"The [Navy] aircraft has a great deal of very sensitive intelligence gear," noted Wortzel.

The U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries aircraft captured by China is reported to be part of the National Security Agency "Echelon" system. Each Aries aircraft is so expensive that only 12 such planes are in the entire U.S. Navy inventory.

Aries aircraft are equipped with giant onboard computers to sort and retransmit the data directly via secure link to NSA headquarters located at Ft. Meade, Md. The highly modified EP-3 Aries aircraft are also equipped with high-powered infrared video cameras to photograph various targets.

Each Aries is designed to provide fleet and theater commanders worldwide with near-real-time tactical-signals intelligence. The Aries is packed with sensitive receivers and high-gain dish antennas. The captured EP-3 reportedly was on a mission to obtain a wide range of electronic emissions from deep inside Chinese territory.

The normal crew complement is 24: seven officers and 17 enlisted aircrew consists of three pilots, one navigator, three tactical evaluators, and one flight engineer. The remainder of the crew is composed of equipment operators, technicians and mechanics.

The Navy Aries aircraft are also frequently repainted with other squadron insignia, including tail numbers and cartoonlike characters, in an effort to disguise them as the more typical P-3 Orion anti-submarine aircraft. The covert paint jobs are performed at an NSA contract facility located outside Dallas-Fort Worth.

According to one Asia expert, the electronic intelligence flights off the Chinese coast are part of a deliberate effort by the Bush administration to draw a sharp Chinese response.

"The U.S. Navy flying spy missions 62 miles from the Chinese coast is simply insane," stated Japan Policy Research Institute president Chalmers Johnson.

"We bait the Chinese with these spy flights, we needle the North Koreans over military movements inside their own borders and antagonize the Russians over an American turned spy while tunneling under their embassy in D.C. This kind of cowboy diplomacy is a form of Clint Eastwood machismo."

"It all adds up to that we are just now starting to pay for the election of George W. Bush," concluded Johnson. "The Chinese were completely justified in taking this action. The Bush administration is deliberately going out of its way to antagonize Beijing."

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U.S. forces are on heightened alert after a game of aerial chicken turned deadly over the South China Sea. A U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II spy plane was forced to land inside China on Sunday after colliding with a People's Liberation Army Air Force jet fighter 62 miles...
Sunday, 01 April 2001 12:00 AM
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