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In a 2010 file photo, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Gerke, Combined Task Group 57.1 aviation machinist, performs a pre-flight prop inspection on an EP-3 reconaissance aircraft at a non-disclosed Southwest Asia location.

In a 2010 file photo, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Gerke, Combined Task Group 57.1 aviation machinist, performs a pre-flight prop inspection on an EP-3 reconaissance aircraft at a non-disclosed Southwest Asia location. (U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON – Two Chinese fighter jets performed a dangerous intercept of an American spy plane Sunday over the East China Sea, forcing the Navy EP-3 reconnaissance jet to maneuver to avoid a mid-air collision, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.

The American pilots deemed the interaction with the Chinese J-10 jets “unsafe and unprofessional” after one of the fighters flew underneath the American plane at a high rate of speed before slowing down and pulling up into the EP-3’s flight path, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. The Navy aircraft’s collision detection warning sounded and the pilot took “evasive action” to avoid the Chinese jet.

The incident occurred late in the morning Sunday in international airspace, about 90 miles south of Qingdao, a Chinese port city north of Shanghai, Davis said.

The J-10 that performed the unsafe maneuver, essentially “cutting off” the American plane, flew within about 300 feet of the EP-3, a U.S. defense official said on condition of anonymity.

Davis said interactions with Chinese military aircraft are rarely unsafe.

“There are intercepts that occur in international airspace regularly,” Davis told reporters at the Pentagon. “The vast majority of them are conducted in a safe manner. This was the exception, not the norm.”

The incident followed two similar intercepts of American military aircraft by Chinese fighter jets in May.

Two Chinese J-10s performed an “unsafe and unprofessional” intercept of a Navy P-3 Orion over the South China Sea on May 24. One of the fighters maneuvered within 100 feet of the American plane off the coast of Hong Kong in that incident, the Pentagon said.

On May 18, Two Chinese Su-30 fighter jets intercepted an Air Force WC-135 Constant Phoenix, known as a “nuclear sniffer” plane, over the East China Sea. In that incident, one of the planes maneuvered with about 150 feet of the American plane, flying inverted above the WC-135, Pentagon officials said.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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