Pentagon says Navy will put damaged spy plane back in service
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Pentagon said Tuesday it will haul the damaged Navy spy plane home from China in large pieces, reassemble it and eventually return it to reconnaissance duty.
”We’re glad to get the airplane back in a condition that it can be repaired and used again,” said Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman. ”It’s an $80 million airplane that is perfectly repairable and flyable and fit to be used again.”
He said it probably would be taken to a repair facility of Lockheed Martin Corp., the plane’s manufacturer.
The Bush administration, meanwhile, confirmed that China has refused to allow a U.S. Navy ship to visit Hong Kong.
Quigley said the United States requested permission for the USS Inchon, a mine countermeasures ship, to make a port call at Hong Kong from June 28 to July 3. He said China rejected the request May 15 without explanation.
In a related development, Quigley said a Chinese maritime patrol plane ”came fairly close” to a U.S. Navy oceanographic survey ship, the USNS Bowditch, several days ago as it operated in the East China Sea. The Chinese plane approached several times to ”have a look” at the U.S. ship, which was escorted by a Navy cruiser, he said.
The Bowditch was approached by a Chinese warship earlier this year in the same area, and the U.S. ship’s captain ”thought it was the better course of action to depart the area at that point, and he did so,” Quigley said.
The Pentagon had hoped to repair the Navy EP-3E Aries II spy plane at the Lingshui air base on Hainan Island, where it made an emergency landing April 1 after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet, and then to fly it off the island. China vetoed that idea and initially insisted that it be hauled off in such small pieces that it would have been condemned to the scrap heap instead of returning to duty.
”That would have been a shame,” Quigley said.
China’s refusal to allow the spy plane to fly home under its own power was based on political rather than technical considerations, officials in Beijing said Tuesday.
”We have explained the Chinese reason. It’s not a technical issue, it has to do with the nature of this plane and how and where it landed,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said.
China has maintained that the American plane caused the collision over the South China Sea, then violated Chinese sovereignty by making an unauthorized emergency landing at Lingshui air base on Hainan. China strenuously objects to U.S. surveillance flights off its coast in international airspace.
The collision, which killed the Chinese pilot, and China’s 11-day detention of the U.S. plane’s 24 crew members caused the worst tensions between Washington and Beijing since NATO bombed China’s embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1999. The United States called the bombing a mistake, but China never accepted that.
Quigley said a team of about four U.S. personnel from U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii would head to China later this week to discuss in Beijing and at Lingshui details of removing the plane.
The intention is to take off the EP-3E’s wings and perhaps its tail and put the pieces aboard one or more chartered AN-124s, the world’s largest cargo plane. The AN-124 is made in both Russia and Ukraine and used commercially.
Quigley said arrangements for the charter probably would be worked out next week. He gave no estimate of when the spy plane would be back on U.S. soil or when it might be returned to reconnaissance duty.
On the Net: EP-3E information: http://www.pacom.mil/ep3.htm
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