Image: LAC Chris Tsakisiris

The new Chief of Air Force has said the RAAF will continue to operate over the South China Sea despite a number of incidents involving the Chinese military.

In his first public comments since his promotion, Air Marshal Robert Chipman said it would be “business as usual” for Australia’s aircraft in the region.

It comes after a Chinese J-16 cut across the nose of a RAAF P-8 Poseidon in May in what Defence branded a “dangerous manoeuvre” that was a safety threat to the Australian crew.

“We think that China has a formidable aerospace capability, and they have concentrated that aerospace capability in the South China Sea region to deter others from going into that airspace,” Air Marshal Chipman said.

“It doesn’t make it impenetrable, and it doesn’t mean you can’t deliver military effects to achieve your interests when you are operating against China. So I don’t think to that extent it’s an exclusive area to us.

“We have … experienced recent encounters with Chinese, which have been robust to say the least and to maker a finer point, they’ve been unsafe.

“We have certainly seen a recent spate of unsafe incidences, but it’s not a trendline we can see sustained. Our operations haven’t changed. It’s still business as usual for us.”

AIRMSHL Chipman was speaking to the media after hosting US Secretary for the Air Force, Frank Kendall.

The incident in May over the South China Sea saw a J-16 accelerate so close to the Australian aircraft that a “bundle of chaff” was ingested into its engine.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said the P-8 returned to base safely but added that the incident would not deter the RAAF from continuing to fly over the disputed area.

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