PLA pilot warns Taiwanese flier in rare airborne face-off

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A Taiwanese AIDC F-CK-1 Ching-kuo fighter intercepts a PLA H-6K bomber above the Taiwan Strait. Photo: Taiwan Defense Ministry.

A People’s Liberation Army Air Force pilot flying an H-6K strategic bomber on Thursday morning told a Taiwanese airman on board an F-16 fighter to leave the vicinity “or proceed at your peril,” in a rare direct radio communication within the island’s air defense zone.

The 50-second communication at around 9am was accidentally picked up by an amateur radio operator on the island, who gave the recording to Taiwan Apple Daily.

Reportedly the PLAAF pilot, having spotted a Taiwanese fighter approaching, first hailed that plane’s pilot on an emergency channel.

An H-6K bomber takes off from an airbase in central China's Shaanxi province. Photo: PLA

An H-6K bomber takes off from an airbase in central China’s Shaanxi province. Photo: PLA

Here is a translation of the communication exchange, which was conducted in Mandarin:

PLA pilot: Taiwan plane, this is the People’s Liberation Army, you are endangering the safety of our plane, please leave immediately, or ignore the warning at your own peril. 

Taiwanese pilot: This is the Republic of China Air Force, [you are entering] our air defense identification zone.…

PLA pilot: We are on a normal flight, you must keep a safe distance. 

Taiwanese pilot (likely speaking to air command): Yes … will follow [the bomber].… 

The defense ministries in Taiwan and Japan confirmed on Thursday that PLA warplanes, including four H-6K bombers and at least one Y-8 spy plane, had flown past the Bashi Channel and Miyako Strait to the high seas off southeastern Taiwan, joining a sea-air patrol with a Type 054A missile destroyer and other PLA warships.

It’s not the first time that pilots from the feuding militaries on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have warned each other by radio.

One such airborne exchange happened in June, according to Apple Daily, during a PLA flyover of the strait, though the PLA pilot involved toned down the exchange and reportedly said at the end, “Easy, we are all compatriots.”

The mainland Chinese military has increased its incursions into Taiwan’s air defense zone in the second half of this year, flexing its muscles by flying its warplanes well beyond the First Island Chain.

At least five such forays have been confirmed by the Taiwanese military in the short span of less than two months, after the conclusion of the 19th Communist Party Congress in late October.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry says its pilots follow a standard operating procedure whenever a foreign warplane enters the island’s air defense zone, including airborne monitoring and issuing warnings via radio. However, they cannot intercept the plane, let alone down it, if the foreign aircraft is merely skimming Taiwan’s air border rather than penetrating it.

Read more: Busy week for PLA as it sends more warplanes above Pacific

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