According to a report published by a Beijing-based think tank on Wednesday, privately owned reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft have been sent to Asia to help the US keep an eye on Chinese activity in the region, The South China Morning Post first reported.
Since March, the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI) said three such planes had been sent to Manila and Okinawa. The report said a Tenax Aerospace CL-604 first landed at the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa on March 30th. From March to November 11th, the aircraft made 139 flights to the East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the Yellow sea and 17 flights to the South China Sea.
The SCSPI recorded another aircraft, a Bombardier CL-650, that made nine surveillance flights over the East China Sea, Yellow Sea, and Taiwan Strait. It also flew over the South China Sea four times. A third aircraft was sent from Meta Space Aerospace, a US company based in Washington, landed in Manila in August, and also carried out surveillance flights in the region.
The SCSPI described the flights as being “like a test to see Chinese reactions.” The think tank said the US has more “flexibility” in using private planes and that it reduces tensions, as opposed to using military planes. “This also signals that the US will step up its presence in the Indo-Pacific region through a collaboration between the military, coastguard and private security sector,” the report said.
The SCSPI recorded an increase in flights from US military aircraft earlier in the year that coincided with increased tensions between the US and China and an uptick in US Navy activity in the region. The think tank recorded 67 flights of US reconnaissance aircraft in the South China Sea in July, compared with 49 in June and just 35 in May. In September, the SCSPI recorded 60 US flights in the region.