Mauro Gia Samonte / Phil-BRICS Strategic Studies / October 10, 2020

SO, it’s not a civilian aircraft that has been observed rounding the southwestern coast of China a number of times recently but actually planes of the United States military on espionage missions.

On September 16, spokesman Wang Wenbin of the Chinese foreign ministry claimed that the US military was using International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) hex codes of other countries to conduct close-in reconnaissance on China’s coast. ICAO hex codes are an internationally accepted mode of identifying the various aircraft of countries of the world. According to the Chinese official, the US military planes fake their ICAO hex codes to make themselves appear civilian when subjected to standard checks.

It just so happens that those areas the US aircraft traverse are not normally navigated by civilian aircraft. This has raised suspicion among Chinese authorities as to the real nature of those flights observed being undertaken by ostensible civilian aircraft along Chinese coasts. During the year, no fewer than 100 have been observed of such surveillance sorties.

Of late, one such surveillance aircraft identified itself as a Malaysian plane with hex code 750548. According to an account of the South China Sea Strategic Probing Initiative (SCSPI): “On Sept 8th, a United States Air Force (USAF) RC-135W (hex code: AE01CD) departed Kadena Air Force Base for a South China Sea mission. Later on the same route appeared a ‘Malaysian plane’ (hex code:750548). It entered the South China Sea and patrolled intensively between Hainan Island and Paracel Islands, about only 50NM (nautical miles) off the Hainan’s baseline, which obviously wouldn’t be a civilian aircraft’s route. Moreover, given their highly coincided tracks and timing, the mysterious ‘Malaysian plane’ was suspected to be the RC-135W in disguise with a false hex code.”

Two other such flights followed according to the account. One, on September 9, USAF RC-135S (hex code: AE01D6) was spotted taking off from Kadena northbound, but later on its signals stopped and then were replaced by a hex code 752B29 of a Malaysian plane; it hovered over and over from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. after entering the air above the Yellow Sea, as close as about 56 nautical miles off Shandong.

The other, at 3 a.m. on September 10, a US Air Force RC-135W had taken off from Kadena air base. It proceeded to conduct reconnaissance of China wearing a Malaysian-assigned hex code “755CB7.” It came within 60 nautical miles off Guangdong. Upon leaving the South China Sea, the plane revealed its original hex code “AE01CE.”

Aerial reconnaissance of China is said to be necessary for the US to determine the exact radar capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Since transponders (or the airline signal systems) of aircraft are necessary to be turned on all the time during the plane’s flight for security reasons, it would look abnormal for US military planes to turn off transponders to avoid detection. That’s why the best option is for those US military planes to send off faked signals to make them appear as some other countries’ civilian aircraft. That way, the PLA doesn’t find any need to turn off their radar systems and thus rendering them susceptible to reading by the US spy plane.

It is alarming enough that the US has taken much liberty using such ploy on Malaysian aircraft. But what horrifies is that the US has likewise taken such liberty on Philippine planes.

According to a report by the South China Morning Post, the SCSPI found that the RC-135S reconnaissance aircraft supposedly used a hex code allocated to a Philippine aircraft while over the Yellow Sea. The report noted that the USAF plane reverted back to its original number after completing its mission.

China’s primordial need, as it is of any other country in the world, is self-preservation. If it is taken into the US deceit of posing their military aircraft as that of the Philippines, then it is within China’s right to self-preservation to launch preemptive strikes against the Philippines. In the event, the country will be made to suffer the horrors of a US war one more time.

Though surely China is not that shallow to launch into such misadventure, the dangers of such a horror taking place are not misplaced.

On Sept. 1, 1983, a Korean Boeing 747 flying over the Soviet’s Sakhalin Island, was misidentified as a USAF RC-135 that was also operating in the area, and shot down by a Su-15 fighter, killing all 269 passengers and crew.

Think now of what tragedy can happen when the precise radar system of the PLA, after having been conditioned to surveillance attacks by the USAF RC-135 posing as a Philippine civilian aircraft, zeroes in on a real Philippine aircraft passing over the Chinese coast and does as the Russians did to the mistaken Korean Boeing 747 in 1983. God forbid.

Problem here is that radars don’t think. They just find targets and hit.

Remember the Ukrainian civilian airline plane mistaken by Iranian radar for an attacking US missile? It was blasted to kingdom come.

Just that tragedy is bound to happen if the US is not deterred from impersonating Philippine civilian airlines at will.

Who has authority over this problem? The United Nations? The ICAO? I don’t know.

Ultimately, hasn’t China the moral obligation to prevail upon the United States, by whatever means applicable, to stop once and for all this dastardly act? It is not even just a military question. It is a crime against humanity.

Source: Manila Times
[https://www.manilatimes.net/2020/10/10/opinion/columnists/us-faking-military-aircraft-as-civilian-a-crime-against-humanity/778475/]

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