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Thursday April 27 4:17 PM ET

Pentagon: Chinese Approach U.S. Jets

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Two Chinese F-8 fighters approached within a couple of miles of an American spy plane flying in international airspace over the South China Sea on Thursday, Pentagon officials said.

Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, described the incident as ``relatively common'' and not a cause for concern.

``Many nations around the world send up aircraft to just have a look-see as to who is getting close to their airspace,'' Quigley said. He said the United States did this routinely during the Cold War when Soviet bombers approached Alaskan airspace.

Quigley said the encounter had no effect on the flight path of the U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane, which he said was operating in international airspace southwest of Taiwan and ``dozens of miles'' beyond China's 12-mile territorial limit.

Quigley described the spy plane's mission as reconnaissance but would not be more specific. ``At no time did the aircraft - the U.S. aircraft - feel the least bit threatened,'' he said.

Quigley said there was no diplomatic protest by either the Chinese or American governments. ``This was a relatively common event not only in that part of the world but in other parts of the world,'' he said.

The spokesman would not describe the kind of intelligence being gathered by the RC-135, known as the Rivet Joint. The plane is routinely used to collect electronic and communications intelligence, such as monitoring another country's battle management communications. It also can provide indications about the location and intentions of enemy forces and provide imminent threat warnings to friendly aircraft in danger.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, the Rivet Joint aircraft are capable of conducting electronic and communications intercepts against targets at ranges of up to 240 kilometers, or about 150 miles. The higher-flying U-2 spy plane can conduct such operations at a range of up to 280 kilometers (175 miles).

The Rivet Joint is flown for intelligence-gathering missions not only in East Asia but also the Persian Gulf. They also played a reconnaissance role during last year's air war over Kosovo.

-- - (, April 27, 2000


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