US and Chinese Fighter Jets Had Close Encounter Over East China Sea: US General

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Advanced fighter jets from the United States and China came face to face recently, according to the commander of the United States’ air presence in the Indo-Pacific.

“We recently had, I wouldn’t call it an engagement, but we got relatively close to the J-20s with our F-35s in the East China Sea, and were relatively impressed with the command and control that was associated with the J-20s,” said Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, Commander of the Pacific Air Forces during a March 14 interview with the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

The F-35 and J-20 are the most advanced fighters in the American and Chinese arsenals respectively. The incident marks one of the first publicly disclosed direct encounters between the two, and Wilsbach noted that the Chinese military was proving capable with the technology.

“What we’re noticing is they are flying it pretty well,” Wilsbach said of the Chinese pilot’s performance during the encounter. He did not provide exact details about the time of the encounter.

Wilsbach also added that there were other Chinese aircraft in the region which also demonstrated a good amount of skill in command and control.

Relatively little is known of the J-20, popularly referred to as the “Mighty Dragon.” It entered service in 2017 and is a stealth fighter, like the F-35, but it is unclear whether the Chinese military will seek to use the aircraft as an all-purpose, multi-mission aircraft, or if it will specialize in one particular domain such as air superiority.

“It’s a bit early to tell exactly what they want to do with the J-20,” Wilsbach said. “All we’ve really seen it do is air superiority.”

“We’re seeing relatively professional flying,” he added. “It’s still too early to tell exactly what they intend to do with it.”

The F-35 fulfills all types of roles, but the United States also uses other aircraft for more specific types of missions. Wilsbach noted that the F-22, for example, was specifically tailored for air superiority missions, but also had the capability to engage in limited air-to-ground attacks.

The encounter comes amid a low point in Sino-American relations. U.S. officials have accused the Chinese communist regime of considering providing military support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well preparing for an invasion of Taiwan in the coming years.

To that end, Wilsbach noted that understanding the Chinese military’s aerial capabilities was vital to ensuring adequate preparedness among U.S. and allied forces.

He said that large segments of the Chinese military’s capability to engage in long-range fires were dependent upon its air power, and particularly its ability to defend early warning aircraft such as the KJ-500.

As such, the United States’ ability to meet with and effectively engage Chinese aircraft in the sky would be a deciding factor in any future conflict.

“Being able to interrupt that kill chain is something that interests me greatly,” Wilsbach said.

Andrew Thornebrooke


Andrew Thornebrooke is a reporter for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master’s in military history from Norwich University.

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