The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) today warned of serious threats to the country’s sovereignty after it detected more than a dozen Chinese aircraft flying suspiciously close to Malaysian air space.
RMAF in a statement said it detected 16 aircraft belonging to China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force entering the Malaysian maritime zone, adding that the air defence radar in Sarawak had detected the planes at 11.53am yesterday before they passed through Beting Patinggi Ali.
“The aircraft were detected flying in an in-trail tactical formation at a distance of 60 nautical miles from each other. The long formation also flew with the same pattern and direction using a single entry and exit point.
“They were later found to have shifted the direction of flight in the airspace of Beting Patinggi Ali which was of interest to the country,” it said.
RMAF said the aircraft had flown through the Singapore flight information region (FIR) at heights of 23,000 and 27,000 feet at a speed of 290 knots, which equals to about 530 km/h, before entering the Malaysian Maritime Zone and the Kota Kinabalu FIR and reaching some 60 nautical miles off the Sarawak coast.
FIR refers to a specified region of airspace delegated to a member-state of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for operational control.
RMAF said the Chinese aircraft had been identified as the Ilyushin Il-76 and Xian Y-20.
“These types of aircraft are strategic transport aircraft and are capable of performing various missions,” it added.
It said when the aircraft failed to heed its directive to contact the Kota Kinabalu air traffic control, it launched a fleet of planes at 1.33pm to carry out visual identification.
“This incident amounts to a serious threat to national sovereignty and aviation safety, taking into account the air traffic density in the airways at the KK FIR,” said RMAF, adding that the defence ministry had been informed of the matter.
This comes just weeks after an Israeli-registered aircraft flew over Malaysian airspace, landing at an army base in Singapore.
The transport ministry said the plane, registered to Israel Aerospace Industries-Elta (IAI-Elta), had been granted approval for overflight following concerns over its path over the Klang Valley.
Defence news journal Defence Security Asia had speculated that the plane could be carrying sensitive radar and reconnaissance equipment and testing a “new system”.
However, Singapore-based engineering company ST Engineering later said the aircraft was a Boeing 737 used for a commercial product demonstration.
The transport ministry said no approval was given for the plane to land or loiter over Malaysian airspace, and assured that the aircraft had shown no abnormal flight patterns.