A Chinese fighter jet flew dangerously close — within approximately 20 feet — and conducted a Hollywood-esq roll over a U.S. aircraft in international airspace Tuesday.

One of the U.S. Navy’s most advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft was intercepted by a Chinese fighter jet while the Navy crew was conducting standard training in international airspace near the Chinese coast over the East China Sea when the incident occurred.

A Navy P-8 (Image source: U.S. Navy)

A Chinese jet flew a “dangerous intercept” on a Navy P-8 that was conducting standard training in international airspace, according to the Department of Defense (Image source: U.S. Navy)

Rear Admiral John Kirby confirmed the incident Friday at a Pentagon press briefing, and said the incident took place 135 miles East of Hainan Island.

“On the 19th of August an armed Chinese fighter jet conducted a dangerous intercept of a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft,” Admiral Kirby said. “We have registered our strong concerns with the Chinese about the unsafe and unprofessional intercept, which posed a risk to safety and well being of the aircrew.”

“Then they flew directly under…bringing their wingtips within 20 feet…”
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Kirby also said the intercept was “inconsistent with customary international law,” and “undermines efforts to continue developing military to military relations with the Chinese military.”

When asked by a reporter how close the Chinese jet got to the U.S. aircraft, Admiral Kirby gave his best estimate.

“It’s difficult to say with precision, but within 30 feet of the P-8 — very, very close — very, very dangerous,” he said.

“We believe that they made several passes, three different occasions crossed under the aircraft, one pass having as little as 50 to 100 feet of separation … the Chinese jet also passed the nose of the P-8 at 90 degrees with the belly toward the P-8 Poseidon — we believe to make a point of showing it’s weapons load out.”

Kirby said the final pass of the Chinese jet came within 20 feet of the Navy aircraft.

“Then they flew directly under and alongside the P-8 bringing their wingtips within 20 feet,” he said. Admiral Kirby stopped to take a breath and shake his head before finishing his thought: “And then conducted a roll over the P-8, passing within 45 feet.”

kirby briefing chinese intercept

The Pentagon’s top spokesman demonstrated with his hands the roll that the Chinese jet conducted over the Navy P-8 aircraft, coming within 45 feet of the airframe on that pass (Image source: C-SPAN).

The Navy calls their militarized version of the Boeing-737 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, “the most advanced long range anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare aircraft in the world;” the jet also conducts maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

The P-8 that was intercepted by the Chinese jet is part of the Navy’s first squadron of new sub hunters deployed to Asia, according to the Washington Free Beacon. Six Okinawa-based P-8s, that can fire both missiles and torpedoes, support the fleet’s maritime surveillance operations as part of the U.S.’s “rebalance” to Asia under command of the Navy’s Seventh Fleet.

The Washington Free Beacon also reported that the Chinese jet was a  Su-27, but DoD officials did not confirm that with TheBlaze.

One Pentagon spokesman told The Blaze on background that some media members were complaining that it took the DoD several days to confirm the incident. “Three days is nothing,” he said, “we have to wait that long for an official complaint to be filed anyway.”

In these cases, the Pentagon spokesman said, the DoD isn’t the lead — the State Department files a formal complaint with the Chinese government.

A third Pentagon official told TheBlaze the incident “is the most recent in a rising trend of nonstandard, unprofessional and unsafe intercepts of US aircraft that we have observed since the end of 2013.”

In an email the DoD spokesman said, “Based on our observations, the Chinese intercepting aircraft appear to have originated from the same unit in Hainan as other close intercepts that occurred in March, April and May.  We are concerned that the intercepting crews from that unit are acting aggressively and demonstrating a lack of regard for the regard for the safety of our aircrews.”

You can watch Admiral Kirby’s comments on the Chinese intercept here.

Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter.