According to a Beijing-based think tank that monitors flights in the region, a US Air Force plane disguised itself as a Philippine aircraft while flying over the Yellow Sea on Tuesday. The South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI) observed the flight.
Another flight monitoring agency, Aircraft Spots, made a similar observation and noted that the plane used a different hex code when it was over the Yellow Sea between China’s coast and the Korean Peninsula. Hex codes are international numbers used to identify aircraft. The SCSPI said the US Air Force plane used a hex code assigned to a Philippine aircraft while over the South China Sea and switched back to its original when the mission was over.
Last week, the SCSPI said it observed US spy planes disguised as Malaysian civilian aircraft flying near China’s Hainan Island, and near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Beijing accused the US of disguising military planes as civilian aircraft over 100 times this year.
The think tank warned that this practice increases the danger to actual civilian aircraft in the region, risking misidentification. In 1983, the Soviet Union shot down a Korean passenger flight after mistaking it as a US spy plane, killing 269 people on board.
Souring US-China relations have led to an increase in US military activity in the region, with the South China Sea turning into a major flashpoint.
US spy planes flying near China’s coast have led to deadly accidents in the past. In 2001, a US reconnaissance plane collided with a Chinese military aircraft 59 nautical miles off the coast of Hainan Island. The collision immediately killed the Chinese pilot and forced the US pilot to land on Hainan.