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During routine exercises in the South China Sea on Oct. 29, a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CH-148 Cyclone helicopter was intercepted numerous times by two People’s Liberation Army J-11 fighter jets.
The Cyclone — embarked on the Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Ottawa in support of Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy — experienced three encounters with the J-11 fighters in international airspace, two of which “were deemed unsafe,” the Department of National Defence (DND) said in a statement.
“With successive passes, one jet eventually conducted a pass over the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter with little separation, causing the helicopter to experience turbulence and take appropriate actions to remain safe,” the DND said.
During a second sortie, the same Cyclone helicopter was again intercepted by a J-11 fighter, “which launched flares directly in front of the helicopter.”
This was also “deemed unsafe” as the helicopter was at risk of ingesting a flare into its rotor and intakes, and was forced to manoeuvre to avoid the flares. The DND said it considers an intercepting aircraft’s actions to be unsafe when it places a Canadian aircraft in danger or if the pilot must manoeuvre to avoid collision.
According to a CNN report, the J-11 fighter jets got as close as 100 feet from the Cyclone. The close encounters, which were “well outside any claimed territorial seas and associated airspace,” were described by the DND as “unnecessary.”
Despite the dangerous incidents, the DND reported that all members of the air detachment and crew on HMCS Ottawa are safe and unharmed. Further, the helicopter itself sustained no damage, and is continuing its mission with the Ottawa frigate.
While this is not the first time that a Chinese military jet has intercepted an RCAF aircraft, it is the first time that such an incident has occurred with a CH-148 Cyclone, which is a militarized variant of the Sikorsky S-92 utility helicopter. In fact, such incidents involving helicopters in general are quite rare.
The DND noted that Canadian Armed Forces members are “well-prepared” to deal with any events that might occur during missions, thanks to extensive training. However, “Canada expects that any intercepts of our aircraft be conducted in a safe and professional manner,” the department stated.