WASHINGTON - Four North Korean fighter jets intercepted a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane over the Sea of Japan and one used its radar in a manner that indicated it might attack, U.S. officials said Monday.
Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said it was the first such incident since August 1969 when a North Korean plane shot down a U.S. EC-121 surveillance plane, killing 31 Americans.
The latest incident happened Sunday morning, Korean time, and there was no hostile fire, Davis said.
The North Korean planes "shadowed" the American plane over international waters for about 20 minutes before breaking off, he said.
Two North Korean MiG29 fighters and two other aircraft that Davis said appeared to be MiG23 fighters intercepted the Air Force RC-135S reconnaissance plane, which Davis said was conducting a routine intelligence mission over the Sea of Japan about 150 miles off North Korea's coast.
The closest the fighters came was about 50 feet, Davis said.
He did not know whether there was any communication between the North Korean and American crews.
At one point one of the fighters "locked on" to the RC-135S with its fire-support radar, Davis said. This is an action that would indicate a possible intent to fire, although in this case there was no hostile fire.
The U.S. plane broke off its mission and returned to its home station at Kadena Air Base in Japan, Davis said.
The incident happened amid heightened tensions between the United States and North Korea. The two countries have no formal diplomatic relations, and North Korea frequently complains that joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises are a prelude to a U.S.-led invasion.
The U.S. Air Force regularly flies U-2 spy plane missions to monitor North Korea's military, including its nuclear facilities.