• Chinese fighter jets are targeting Australian aircraft able to detect submarines with risky air maneuvers.
  • China is making efforts to strengthen its submarine fleet and access deep waters.
  • Chinese aircraft interfering with Australian aircraft is reminiscent of Soviet Cold War-era harassment.

Chinese fighter jets keep targeting Australian aircraft capable of finding and defeating submarines with hazardous maneuvers, suggesting that subs may be what the Chinese jets are guarding so fiercely.

"Concealing its submarines and discretely accessing deep waters are seen as ongoing challenges for China," Justin Burke, a senior policy advisor at the National Security College, wrote for the Sydney-based Lowy Institute's publication The Interpreter.

"It is therefore worth contemplating that Australia's aircraft are being targeted because of their crucial role in submarine detection and the undersea balance of power," he said.

Earlier this month, a Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force fighter jet released flares in the path of a Royal Australian Navy MH-60R helicopter over the Yellow Sea, compelling the Australian military to release a statement calling the risky maneuver "unsafe and unprofessional."

Two years earlier, a Chinese fighter jet dropped chaff in front of a P-8 Poseidon aircraft operating above the South China Sea. At least some of the metallic debris entered the plane's engine. That same year, a Chinese warship was accused of using lasers to interfere with another P-8.

Burke says this may be a way for China to give warning and protect its undersea capabilities that have been in the works, noting that "while a detectable submarine is virtually useless, a stealthy one is priceless."

MH-60R helicopters, like the P-8, are anti-submarine warfare platforms. They are able to detect submarines using detachable sonar and sonobuoy mechanisms.

"Even if these aircraft are performing routine flights, their known capabilities may simply lead to the assumption by the Chinese military that they are 'spying,'" Burke said.

China's undersea presence is not insignificant, as submarines are able to act as a survivable nuclear strike option, preserving China's second-strike capabilities. China has been working to expand its fleet to 65 submarines by 2025 and 80 submarines by 2035, according to the Pentagon.

These incidents remind Burke of harassment cases from Soviet ships during the Cold War in which a Soviet vessel would purposefully bump into a US ship as a means to disturb US sea operations and also make a "diplomatic point."

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