BEIJING--Tensions involving Japanese, U.S. and Chinese aircraft were escalating over the East China Sea on Jan. 19, when a Chinese frigate apparently trained a fire-control radar on a Self-Defense Forces helicopter, military sources said.
A U.S. airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft flew near the Japan-China median line north of the disputed Senkaku Islands on that day, prompting China to scramble two Jian-10 fighters of the Nanjing Military Region from a base outside Shanghai, the sources said.
The Chinese fighters approached and tailed the AWACS aircraft, leading Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force to scramble its fighters from the Naha Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture, the sources said.
Both Japan and China exchanged several scrambles during the day, they said.
“The situation was so tense that it could have led to a clash,” a source close to the Chinese military said.
It is unclear whether the radar action against the Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter was related to the series of scrambles.
The U.S. military introduced the AWACS aircraft to East China Sea airspace on Jan. 10. Often described as a flying control tower, the aircraft is equipped with a high-performance radar capable of broad-area detection.
Beijing is believed to be concerned that the AWACS aircraft could provide the United States with information on Chinese bases and missile batteries along the coastal areas.
Japanese and U.S. government officials appear to have been greatly alarmed by the developments on Jan. 19.
Defense officials from the two countries held an emergency telephone meeting late on Jan. 23. They discussed improvements in surveillance of the Chinese military and cooperation in preparation for a contingency, sources said.
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