China has jamming equipment in the South China Sea -- and the US may 'not look kindly on it'

US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kaysee LohmannAn EA-18G Growler assigned to the ‘Rooks’ of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 137 launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) on February 28, 2018.
  • The US Navy’s USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier has reached the Philippines, and it looks like China has jamming equipment in the South China Sea.
  • Beijing has built and militarised artificial islands in the South China Sea, and is extremely touchy about US Navy ships sailing around them despite their legal status as lying in international waters.
  • While jamming isn’t anywhere near shooting, the provocative activity “could lead to an escalatory pattern that could be negative for both sides,” and the US will “not look kindly” on the practice, according to an expert.

The US Navy’s USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier has reached the Philippines, and reports from pilots on board the ship paint a troubling picture of growing tensions with China.

US officials told the Wall Street Journal early in April that intelligence officers detected China moving radar and communications jamming equipment to the South China Sea.

In addition to building and militarizing islands in the South China Sea, Beijing stands accused of encroaching on the Philippines’ territorial waters, something recently exacerbated by the reported appearance of Chinese military planes on a reef near the island nation.

Part of the Roosevelt’s mission in the Philippines was to demonstrate that if China crossed the line, the US, the Philippines’ ally, would have its back. A pilot flying an EA-18G Growler, the US Navy’s electronic attack version of the F-18 carrier-based fighter jet, seemed to confirm intelligence that China has jamming equipment on islands in the region.

China jamming US Navy carrier aircraft?

South China Sea MapCSIS/Asia Maritime Transparency InitiativeMap shows China’s maritime border claims and the islands it has moved to claim.

“The mere fact that some of your equipment is not working is already an indication that someone is trying to jam you. And so we have an answer to that,” the pilot told GMA News Online.

“This is not something that the US will look kindly on or think they can overlook.” Omar Lamrani, a military analyst at geopolitical consulting firm Stratfor, told Business Insider, when asked about a potential jamming. “The US will likely seek to counter this in some way.”

While Lamrani said that jamming “can be dangerous” if it targets navigation or communication systems, the US Navy’s electronic attack aircraft can likely more than handle the challenge.

“The Growler is a very capable machine,” Lamrani said. “I doubt the Chinese can really affect that aircraft that much. This type of system will try to annoy them and interfere with them, but I don’t really think it will create a safety issues.”

But while manned aircraft can usually fight back against signal jamming, and pilots in a cockpit can always use their own judgment if communications or navigation is lost, jamming could pose a serious threat to the US Navy’s drones, as there’s no one in the cockpit, according to Lamrani.

If China is jamming US Navy aircraft flying in international airspace at sea, it serve as yet another sign that Beijing may disregard international law and norms to defend its South China Sea land grab.

According to Lamrani, while jamming isn’t anywhere near shooting, the provocative activity “could lead to an escalatory pattern that could be negative for both sides.”

Editor’s note: An original version of this story incorrectly stated that the EA-18G Growler pilot had experienced jamming in the Pacific. This article has been changed to report that the pilot described what jamming would be like and seemed to confirm that equipment was in the region.

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