US Spy Planes Conducted Record Number of Sorties Near China in November

A Beijing-based think tank recorded 94 US reconnaissance flights

The US conducted a record number of reconnaissance flights over the South China Sea near the Chinese coast in the month of November, according to research from the Beijing-based South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI).

The SCSPI tracked 94 US spy plane flights for November, breaking the previous high of 75 that was recorded in February. The think tank began tracking US flights in the region in June 2019.

For about 80 percent of the flights, the US used P-8A anti-submarine patrol aircraft. Other planes that were used included the MQ-4C unmanned aircraft and the E-8C air-to-ground surveillance plane. The think tank noted there could have been more US sorties that weren’t tracked since some aircraft could have turned off their identification signals.

The US also broke the daily record for reconnaissance flights, flying 10 sorties on November 4th, when the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was transiting the South China Sea.

The uptick of flights in November is just the latest example of how the US is increasing its military presence in the region as China has become the Pentagon’s top priority.

In early November, a Chinese researcher said the US had conducted about 2,000 reconnaissance flights in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the Yellow sea at that point this year. For all of 2020, the US conducted just under 1,000 flights in the same areas.

Author: Dave DeCamp

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