The Air Force has revealed Australian pilots and aircrew are offered counselling after they encounter Chinese military jets during patrols over the South China Sea.
Tensions are rising in the strategically important waterway, and the RAAF says it is noticing a trend of more dangerous behaviour by aircraft from the People’s Liberation Army.
“The vast majority of interactions we have with all nations are professional — safe and professional,” RAAF Chief Rob Chipman told the ABC after hosting international counterparts at the Avalon Air Show.
“There has been a trend recently where we’ve seen a more aggressive posture set, when that occurs then we raise those issues, raise those concerns, through diplomatic channels.”
The RAAF Chief says while he has no interaction with his PLA counterpart, Australia is in regular dialogue with allies who also encounter the Chinese military in the contested territory claimed by Beijing.
“We’re also very aware of how nations are interacting with each other, with our allies and partners,” Air Marshal Chipman said.
Last May the RAAF was dangerously intercepted by a Chinese military aircraft which released aluminium chaff, that was ingested into the engine of the Australian P-8 surveillance plane.
Senior Defence sources have since indicated the incident, which was strongly condemned by the new Albanese government, may have been the result of a miscalculation by the Chinese J-16 fighter pilot.
RAAF Air Commander, Air Vice Marshal Darren Goldie, says his pilots and crews are now routinely debriefed after flying sorties to Australia’s north.
“The mental health of our aviators and people … coming in contact with things like intercepts or challenges on the radio … it’s important that when we bring them back, we talk to them about the experience,” he said.
“And [it’s important] we talk to them about what services are available, should they be troubled by the experiences they saw”.
Air Vice Marshal Goldie says a lot of work goes into preparing Australian crews before they fly to the South China Sea.
“When it comes to deploying, as we’ve seen the operational environment change of course the actual force preparation we do for our crews, both before deployment and after deployment, has continued to evolve,” he said.
Particular concerns are held for the welfare of aviators who are not in the pilot’s seat, because they have less control in tense situations.
The ABC has also been told the Chinese military is often notified before an Australian aircraft conducts a mission in the region.