US Spy Planes Disguising as Civilian Airliners Near China’s Coast

Think tanks warns of the danger the practice poses to actual civilian aircraft

Beijing has accused the US of flying military planes near China’s coast and disguising them as civilian airliners by changing transponder codes at least 100 times this year. The accusation comes at a time of heightened tensions between the two powers, which has increased US military activity in the Indo-Pacific.

The Beijing-based think tank South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI) has recorded instances of the US cloaking its spy planes as airliners.

According to the SCSPI, between September 8th and 10th, US spy planes disguised as Malaysian aircraft flew over the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the Yellow Sea near China’s coast.

The think tank warned in its report that this practice increases the danger to actual civilian aircraft in the region, risking misidentification. The SCSPI said the US has a record of changing transponder numbers when it flies reconnaissance in places like Iran and Venezuela.

“It’s a common trick for the US Air Force to impersonate the transponder code of civilian aircraft from other countries … It is of a vile nature,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said. “We urge the US to immediately stop such dangerous provocations, to avoid accidents from happening in the sea and air.”

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.