Gear-obsessed editors choose every product we review. We may earn commission if you buy from a link. How we test gear.
The organization, which has close ties with the People’s Republic of China, accused the service of insulting their military through a call sign.
A think tank with ties to the People’s Republic of China claims that the U.S. Air Force is trolling the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
On September 6, the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI)—a research policy organization affiliated with Peking University, that generally supports China’s claims in the South China Sea—expressed that concern in a tweet. In it, the think tank identifies a U.S. military aircraft, its route, and a particular call sign, which it says “is probably calling PLA names.”
USAF RC-135S #AE01D7 has been spotted over the #YellowSea monitoring China three days in a row, as close as 26NM off the territorial sea baseline.
What’s more aggressive than its close-in surveillance is perhaps today’s callsign “JUNKY81”, which is probably calling PLA names. pic.twitter.com/AzOf8xP08q
Specifically, SCSPI complained that an RC-135S Cobra Ball intelligence-gathering plane (pictured at the top of this story) flew with the call sign JUNKY81, a seemingly innocuous call sign. The organization says that the U.S. Air Force crew aboard the spy plane used the call sign to deliberately insult the Chinese military as it flew near the country’s airspace.
The RC-135S Cobra Ball is based on the Boeing 707 jetliner. There are several intel planes based on the 707, but the Cobra Ball’s mission is to monitor and gather information on foreign ballistic missile tests. The Air Force describes the planes as full of a “sophisticated array of optical and electronic sensors, recording media, and communications equipment.” There are only three Cobra Ball planes in the world.
The RC-135S reportedly flew several days in a row over the Yellow Sea. The flights were almost certainly connected to an impending ballistic missile test from the South Korean submarine Dosan Ahn Chang-ho. The test, a first for South Korea, was conducted on September 7. Any long-range missile launched from South Korea would fly south by southwest across the Yellow Sea, to avoid overflying neighboring Japan, Russia, or China. A RC-135S flying over the sea would be in an ideal position to observe the test.
JUNKY81 includes two references, according to Newsweek. The first, JUNKY, is a reference to the aircrew’s opinion of the People’s Liberation Army. The rest, according to the news magazine:
USAF RC-135S Cobra Ball up from Kadena
GAZEL74 #AE01D7 62-4128 pic.twitter.com/gWRDMdpoAC
On September 1, the same plane, No. 62-4128, flew a similar profile with the call sign GAZEL74. On September 3, the plane flew again with the call sign REFER83.
Interestingly enough, No. 62-4128 flew with the call sign JUNKY81 only after the SCSPI repeatedly called out its previous flights that week on the group’s Twitter feed.
😂GETALIFE!! 🇺🇸USAF Lockheed U2-S ‘GETALIFE’ (hex #AE094A | 68-10331) in the air out of USAF Plant 42, Palmdale, California 😎 pic.twitter.com/TfgUipErxO
If the allegation is true this is the second salty Air Force call sign in a week. On September 1, a U-2S spy plane flying over California used the call sign GETALIFE. The call sign was seemingly directed at plane spotters who track aircraft like the U-2S—and the Cobra Ball—as a hobby, posting their findings on social media.