US Spy Plane Sets Record for Closest Flight to China’s Coast

The plane came within 25.33 nautical miles of China's coastline

A US spy plane made the closest-ever pass near China’s coast on Monday, according to the Beijing-based South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI). The SCSPI tracked a US Air Force RC-135U Combat Sent that came within 25.33 nautical miles of mainland China.

The SCSPI said on Twitter that the flight marked “the shortest distance US reconnaissance aircraft have reached from the China’s coastlines, based on public data so far.”

The plane made the passage in the South China Sea, where US military activity has stepped up drastically in recent years. As part of the Trump administration’s hardline China policies, in 2020, a record number of US warships challenged Beijing by sailing near Chinese-claimed islands in the South China Sea and through the Taiwan Strait.

The SCSPI released a report on US military activity in the region in 2020. According to the report, US spy planes flew nearly 1,000 sorties in the South China Sea in 2020 and US Air Force Bombers flew 17 missions in the region.

This provocative activity shows no signs of slowing down under President Biden. Numbers from the SCSPI indicate the US military surveillance flights in the region are increasing. In February, the SCSPI recorded 75 US flights in the South China Sea, up from 70 in January. The SCSPI uses publicly available data stresses they cannot track every US military flight in the region.

Author: Dave DeCamp

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