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Chinese combat aircraft launches flares ahead of Australian helicopter

The Australian government said that a Chinese combat aircraft launched flares in front of HMAS Hobart 's embarked MH-60R helicopter (nicknamed Voodoo), pictured here, on 4 May 2024 while the helicopter was flying over international waters in the Yellow Sea (West Sea). (Commonwealth of Australia)

A Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) fighter aircraft conducted an unsafe interception of a Royal Australian Navy (RAN) helicopter in the Yellow Sea (West Sea), the Australian Department of Defence (DoD) said.

The incident occurred when HMAS Hobart launched a Sikorsky MH-60R helicopter on 4 May as part of “routine” operations, the DoD said on 6 May. At the time, HMAS Hobart , a 7,000 tonne air warfare destroyer (AWD) was “in international waters in the Yellow Sea [West Sea] undertaking … activities as part of Operation ‘Argos'”, the DoD added.

Operation ‘Argos' is the Australian Defence Force's (ADF's) commitment to the international effort to enforce United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea. Australian units involved in the operation assist with monitoring illegal ship-to-ship transfers of sanctioned goods, according to the DoD.

“During these activities, a Royal Australian Navy MH-60R helicopter launched from HMAS Hobart was intercepted by a PLAAF fighter aircraft,” the Australian DoD said. “The PLAAF aircraft released flares along the flightpath of the … ADF helicopter.”

While ADF personnel sustained no injuries and the MH-60R helicopter was undamaged, the DoD said that the PLAAF aircraft conducted an “unsafe manoeuvre, which posed a risk to the aircraft and personnel”.

“Australia expects all countries, including China, to operate their militaries in a professional and safe manner,” the DoD added.

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