Find a Security Clearance Job!


Air Defense Identification Zone

On 23 November 2013, and effective immediately, China's defense ministry released an air defense zone map for the East China Sea that includes islands controlled by Japan, but claimed by China. In a statement on its website, the ministry said that under a new set of rules, all aircraft entering the zone must notify Chinese authorities and are subject to emergency military measures if they do not identify themselves or obey orders from Beijing. This is an Air Defense Identification Zone "with Chinese characteristics" - unlike other ADIZ in the region, it overlaps the ADIZ of a neighboring country, Japan. And unlike ADIZ around the world, notification requirements are extended to both civilian and military aircraft, rather than just civilian aircraft as is normally the case.

The rules as published:

  • Aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone must abide by these rules.
  • Aircraft flying in the East China Sea ADIZ must provide the following means of identification:
    1. Flight plan identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea ADIZ should report the flight plans to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China or the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
    2. Radio identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea ADIZ must maintain the two-way radio communications, and respond in a timely and accurate manner to the identification inquiries from the administrative organ of the East China Sea ADIZ or the unit authorized by the organ.
    3. Transponder identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea ADIZ, if equipped with the secondary radar transponder, should keep the transponder working throughout the entire course.
    4. Logo identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea ADIZ must clearly mark their nationalities and the logo of their registration identification in accordance with related international treaties.
  • Aircraft flying in the East China Sea ADIZ should follow the instructions of the administrative organ of the East China Sea ADIZ or the unit authorized by the organ. China's armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions.
  • The Ministry of National Defense of the People's Republic of China is the administrative organ of the East China Sea ADIZ.
  • The Ministry of National Defense of the People's Republic of China is responsible for the explanation of these rules.

US Secretary of State John Kerry stated "Freedom of overflight and other internationally lawful uses of sea and airspace are essential to prosperity, stability, and security in the Pacific. We don't support efforts by any State to apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter its national airspace. The United States does not apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter U.S. national airspace. We urge China not to implement its threat to take action against aircraft that do not identify themselves or obey orders from Beijing."

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressed concern. We view this development as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region. This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations... This announcement by the Peoples Republic of China will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region.

Chinas new ADIZ, covering most of the East China Sea, overlaps Japan's existing ADIZ by approximately half. In Tokyo, Junichi Ihara, head of the Foreign Ministrys Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, lodged a protest by phone with Han Zhiqiang, a minister at the Chinese Embassy, according to a statement issued by the ministry. Ihara was quoted as telling Han that Japan can never accept the zone set up by China, as it includes the Senkakus. Earlier in November Japan scrambled fighter jets in the East China Sea after it spotted what it said was an unmanned aircraft flying toward Japan.

In a statement, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said, The airspace the Chinese side established today is totally unacceptable and extremely regrettable as it includes the Japanese territorial airspace over the Senkaku Islands, an inherent territory of Japan.... Unilaterally establishing such airspace and restricting flights in the area is extremely dangerous as it may lead to miscalculation in the area... An editorial in Global Times, China's official news outlet, stated that "If Japan sends warplanes to "intercept" China's jet fighters, Beijing's armed forces will be bound to adopt defensive emergency measures."

There is somewhat less here than meets the eye, as, unlike an Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ], there is nothing exclusive about an ADIZ, and the fact that commercial aircraft file flight plans with more than one ADIZ should create nothing more than surplus busywork. Japan and South Korea have ADIZs that are contiguous and do not overlap, but unlike an EEZ there is no international legal requirement for agreed upon median lines. The ADIZ is simply a unilaterally established set of procedures followed by one country's air defense forces, and does not have to be "accepted" by other countries if they are prepared to have their aircraft intercepted. The US military as a matter of policy does not comply with ADIZ procedures of other countries, as this would amount to announcing planned movements of warplanes. Non-acceptance in whole or in part by other countries will keep China quite busy scrambling, and this does increase the risk of miscalculation.

Norway and the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan and Canada (CADIZ) are some of the 20 countries which maintain ADIZs as well as the United States. International law does not prohibit States from establishing air identification zones in the air space adjacent to their territorial air space. There has not yet emerged a recognized practice of contiguous air space zones analogous to contiguous zones established on the high seas, enabling states to exercise certain legal controls over aircraft flying outside territorial air space. The present system of Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ) employed by the United States extends to the air space above the open sea and is limited to the purpose of identifying aircraft.

The U.S. Navy's Commander's Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations specifically instructs U.S. military aircraft to ignore the ADIZ of other states when operating in coastal areas: "The United States does not recognize the right of a coastal nation to apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter national airspace nor does the United States apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter U.S. airspace. Accordingly, U.S. military aircraft not intending to enter national airspace should not identify themselves or otherwise comply with ADIZ procedures established by other nations, unless the United States has specifically agreed to do so."

Procedures applicable to United States military aircraft penetrating a foreign ADIZ on a flight plan or intending to penetrate the sovereign airspace of the ADIZ country are published in Section C of the DoD Enroute Supplements. Military aircraft transiting through a foreign ADIZ without intending to penetrate foreign sovereign airspace are not required to follow these procedures. Operations near the national territory of Russia or in proximity to Russian military forces are covered in paragraph 7-13, Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities Between the US and Russia.

United States Government policy is to routinely and frequently exercise United States overflight rights in International airspace. Flight operations in International airspace are exempt from diplomatic clearance requirements. Further, military aircraft operating in International airspace (whether within or outside a Flight Information Region (FIR) or Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), or transiting over water through International straits or archipelagic sea lanes are not legally subject to the jurisdiction or control of Air Traffic Control authorities of a foreign country. However, United States military aircraft are obligated under Article 3 of the Chicago Convention to exercise "Due Regard for the safety of navigation of civil aircraft."

As a matter of United States policy, DoD Directive 4540.1, 13 January 1981, "Use of Airspace by Military Aircraft and Firings Over the High Seas," requires United States military aircraft operating over the high seas (or transiting over water through International straits or archipelagic sea lanes) to observe International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) flight procedures when practical and compatible with the mission.

Consistent with International law, the United States Government recognizes territorial sea claims up to a maximum distance of 12 nautical miles from coastal states baselines drawn in accordance with International law. Diplomatic overflight clearance is official permission (consent) to operate in sovereign airspace. Consent of the coastal state is required for flight within territorial airspace, except when transiting International straits or exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage.

A contiguous zone is an area seaward of the territorial sea in which the coastal state may exercise the control necessary to prevent or punish infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration, and sanitary laws and regulations that occur within its territory or territorial sea. The contiguous zone may not extend beyond 24 nautical miles from the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured (i.e., 12 nautical miles territorial sea plus 12 nautical miles contiguous zone). In the contiguous zone ships and aircraft, including warships and military aircraft, of all states enjoy the high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight.

United States military aircraft intercepted by foreign aircraft should comply with established DoD flight Information Procedures and International Intercept Procedures. If intercepted in territorial airspace of a foreign country, they comply with direction to depart territorial airspace or comply with direction to land, provided landing can be safely accomplished (e.g., suitable airfield). Upon landing, they are to immediately contact United States embassy for assistance. If intercepted in International airspace, International straits, or archipelagic sea lanes, aircraft should continue on planned routes of flights. Advise foreign authority and/or interceptor that it is a United States military aircraft and in accordance with International law, the aircraft is operating in International airspace, exercising the right of transit passage of an International strait, or exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage.

The US Defense Department expressed its concern to Chinese diplomatic officials about a 19 August 2014 incident in which an armed Chinese fighter jet conducted a dangerous intercept of a US Navy P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft. US military officials said the Chinese aircraft made several close passes, coming at one point within 10 meters of its plane. The Chinese jet passed the nose of the P-8 at 90 degrees with its belly toward the P-8 Poseidon, we believe to make a point of showing its weapons load out, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said. They flew directly under and alongside the P-8, bringing their wingtips to within 20 feet and then conducted a roll over the P-8, passing within 45 feet.

The latest incident took place 220 kilometers (137 miles) from China's southern island province of Hainan. The US Deputy Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said what the Chinese jet did was "obviously deeply concerning provocation".

China believes the US should take measures to avoid such incidences in the future. "If the United States really hopes to avoid impacting bilateral relations, the best course of action is to reduce or halt close surveillance of China," Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said in a statement on the ministry's website. "According to different situations we will adopt different measures to make sure we safeguard our air and sea security of the country," Yang said at a monthly news briefing. The American patrols have "seriously threatened China's security interests," he added.

An editorial in People's Daily Online (China Daily) August 25, 2014 said "Mutual trust is the foundation of all good relations in the world. However, the constant and frequent reconnaissance missions that US naval vessels and planes have been conducting near China's coastal waters and airspace do nothing to convince the Chinese authorities and the Chinese people that the US is sincere in claiming it wants to build mutual trust with China. Neither does the US' rebalancing of its military might to Asia suggest a friendly approach."

At a regular Foreign Ministry press conference on Jan. 4, 2016, Hua Chunying, a Foreign Ministry Spokesperson was asked whether China plans to declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over parts of the South China Sea. In response to this question, Hua said that as for whether or not China will set up an air defense identification zone, the decision will be made based on a full assessment of the security situation and China's needs. "We believe that the overall situation in the South China Sea is stable," Hua said.

China said on 13 July 2016 that it will decide whether to declare an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea in accordance with the level of threat. "The ADIZ is not a Chinese invention, but rather that of some big powers. If our security were threatened, of course we have the right. It depends on our comprehensive judgment," said Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin at a press briefing at the Information Office of the State Council.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force conducted a combat air patrol in the South China Sea in July 2016, which will become a "regular" practice in the future, said a military spokesperson on 19 July 2016. The PLA sent H-6K bombers and other aircraft including fighters, scouts and tankers to patrol islands and reefs including Huangyan Dao, said Shen Jinke, spokesman for the PLA Air Force. During the mission, the aircraft carried out tasks including aerial scouting, air combat and island and reef patrol, fulfilling the patrol's objective, Shen said.

China claims that the 9-Dotted Line is China's maritime national border. As such the waters enclosed by the 9-Dotted Line are already China's sovereign internal waters or inland waters. This means the airspace above these sovereign waters is already China's sovereign airspace. Therefore, China has the right not only to demand notification from aircrafts entering this airspace but also has the right to demand that they not enter this airspace unless and until they have requested and received permission from the Chinese authorities to enter this airspace.

Join the mailing list