May 22, 2015
China warns U.S. NAVY P-8A surveillance plane
The series of man-made islands and the massive Chinese military build-up on them have alarmed the Pentagon, which is carrying out the surveillance flights in order to make clear the U.S. does not recognize China's territorial claims. The militarized islands have also alarmed America's regional allies.
"This is the Chinese navy ... This is the Chinese navy ... Please go away ... to avoid misunderstanding," a voice in English crackled through the radio of the aircraft.
This is the first time the Pentagon has declassified video of China's building activity and audio of Chinese challenges of a U.S. aircraft.
The aircraft flew at 15,000 feet in the air at its lowest point, but the U.S. is considering flying such surveillance missions even closer over the islands, as well as sailing U.S. warships within miles of them, as part of the new, more robust U.S. military posture in the area.
Soon after the Chinese communication was heard, its source appeared on the horizon seemingly out of nowhere: an island made by China some 600 miles from its coastline.
The South China Sea is the subject of numerous rival -- often messy -- territorial claims over an area that includes fertile fishing grounds and potentially rich reserves of undersea natural resources. China is increasingly showing that even far from its mainland, it sees itself as having jurisdiction over the body of water.
Wednesday's mission was specifically aimed at monitoring Chinese activities on three islands that months ago were reefs barely peaking above the waves. Now they are massive construction projects that the U.S. fears will soon be fully functioning military installations.
China's alarming creation of entirely new territory in the South China Sea is one part of a broader military push that some fear is intended to challenge U.S. dominance in the region. Beijing is sailing its first aircraft carrier; equipping its nuclear missiles with multiple warheads; developing missiles to destroy US warships; and, now, building military bases far from its shores.
In just two years, China has expanded these islands by 2,000 acres -- the equivalent of 1,500 football fields -- and counting, an engineering marvel in waters as deep as 300 feet.
In video filmed by the P8's surveillance cameras, it can be see that in addition to early warning radar, Fiery Cross Reef is now home to military barracks, a lofty lookout tower and a runway long enough to handle every aircraft in the Chinese military.
The Chinese navy ordered the P8 out of the airspace eight times on this mission alone.
Each time, the American pilots told them calmly and uniformly that the P8 was flying through international airspace.
That answer sometimes frustrated the Chinese radio operator on the other end.
Once he responds with exasperation: "This is the Chinese navy ... You go!"