Ok, so the Chinese F-8 ran into our EP-3E. So the EP-3E landed in China and the F-8 crashed into the sea. We now have our crew and the Chinese are very happy to have our Electronic/Patrol aircraft (note: it's not a "spy plane" like the U-2 or SR-71) in all it's $80 million glory. So what could we have done differently?

The United States failed one basic lesson of war, never leave anything the enemy can use, the extreme of which is called Scorched Earth. This is a basic principle of war dating back hundreds of years. In the middle ages nobles would burn the fields so a seiging army would have to scrounge for food. In World War II the Germans and the Russians put this idea to use. The US was forced to burn un-used APCs and C-Rations when retreating in the "Big Bug-Out" of Vietnam. Even Saddam Hussein mastered this concept when he set fire to the oil wells of Kuwait.

The crew of the EP-3E partially accomplished this necessary destruction when they erased the hard drives of all the on-board computers, but that still leaves the all too valuable hardware. Hardware that can give the Chinese insight as to the sensitivity and range of our listening equipment. The crew made a valiant effort to destroy the on-board hardware using hammers, axes and other tools. Clearly the Chinese saw this as little more than an annoyance as they stripped the plane and hauled away almost $80 million worth of US Government property.

The most ideal solution would be to place demolitions charges on key equipment and destroy it beyond repair as the crew abandoned the aircraft. Pre-placed charges in the external antenna housings would also be detonated. But, this equipment is not carried on-board. The next best thing would be to call in an air-strike from F-117s or B-2s to destroy the EP-3E on the ground.

The failure of the United States to destroy all material that could be useful to the Chinese is the same as failing to demolish a bridge, failure to burn equipment and supplies left behind and failure to destroy railroad tracks when retreating. Yes, it would have pissed off the Chinese to no end, but the EP-3E was US property and it was not only our right but our responsibility to destroy it, a responsibility we failed to consummate.

Reply to JyZude: The idea of destroying sensitive materials or taking other measures to keep them from falling into the control of a potentially hostile government was learned in war, but it is not limited to wartime. The EP-3E landed at the Chinese airbase to save the crew, of course we are not at war with the Chinese, but that does not mean that we should (or do) trust them. The confiscation of our aircraft and the detention of the crew should convince anyone of that. If not may I point you to the recent incident involving the theft of US nuclear technology. Are we at war with the Chinese? No, of course not, but that does not mean I trust them.
The Chinese were required by international law to treat the crew of the EP-3E and the aircraft as any other vessel in distress. The plane should have been repaired (after parts and mechanics were flown in) and allowed to leave, especially considering it was the Chinese military that caused this event in the first place.
The Chinese have no right to question our use of an EP-3E in international airspace, they have no right to challenge our use of that airspace. The area in which the EP-3E was patrolling was neutral and the US had every right to be there, just as the Chinese did. However, it was not the EP-3E crew that challenged the F-8s to a mid-air duel, quite the contrary. In fact there is video footage of the very Chinese pilot who collided with the EP-3E flying dangerously close to other patrol aircraft, even holding up his email address to the crew of another EP-3E.
The fact is that the Chinese military and civil government are two seperate agencies working independantly of one another and, as in this case, stepping on each others' toes.

See also: China is wrong, and there is no 'grey area' here

Reply to Yurei: I disagree with very littel of what you had to say. I do not dispute that demolitions charges can be dangerous, but plastic explosive is very stable and safe to carry. The chance of an accidental detontation, even in fire is almost zero. I am not criticizing the crew of the EP-3E, they did a fantastic job erasing data and axing equipment, I am saying they should have had better tools. The US had every right to destroy the EP-3E on the ground, it was our aircraft to do with as we see fit. That is why the crew destroyed the equipment, it was US property, as is the airframe. In a strictly tactical perspective we did fail to totally destroy assests to avoid their capture.

The United States failed one basic lesson of war, never leave anything the enemy can use, - SkiBum5

Certainly this mess would not have happened if the plane was set to "self destruct" or was told to land in the ocean, but that is a war tactic, and last time I checked, we weren't officially at war with the Chinese.

I thought that the U.S. was into trading with the Chinese and exploiting, er, allying with them. Destroying the plane and possibly killing the crew would suggest to the Chinese that there's actually a cold war going on. Landing it at a Chinese base suggests at least an inkling of trust between the two countries involved.

Still, I'm quite surprised that the Chinese aren't vehemently questioning why the plane was there in the first place.

Having worked on naval aircraft for several years and knowing something of the conduct required in such situations I take contention with almost all of what SkiBum5 has written.

...never leave anything the enemy can use...
As stated on CNN and several other major news outlets, nearly all of the classified equipment on the plane was destroyed in accordance with the squadron's Emergency Destruction Bill. All naval facilities in possession of classified materials have these and they are quite specific about what goes first, second, etc. when the materials in question could fall into the wrong hands. I find no fault with the crew in the execution of their duties in that they attempted to do just this.
However, in an environment such as this one (namely the inside of an airplane in extremis,) it may not be physically possible to destroy all of the sensitive equipment prior to landing. Most of what the crew has access to on the inside of the plane is display and data handling equipment. Radars, receivers and other such systems can usually only be accessed from the outside or via major maintenance by ground crew. The expectation that the crew could destroy all of the equipment on the aircraft is quite frankly ludicrous in this light.
With the details of the flight envelope the aircraft was in prior to landing, it is now readily apparent that the best efforts of the crew were just that, their best efforts.

The most ideal solution would be to place demolitions charges on key equipment and destroy it beyond repair as the crew abandoned the aircraft. Pre-placed charges in the external antenna housings would also be detonated. But, this equipment is not carried on-board.
Absolutely not and for good reason. Safety of the aircrew is paramount, routinely strapping on large explosive charges is not only a danger to the aircrew should the aircraft encounter an electrical storm, but also to the maintenance personnel charged with working on the P-3 airframe. Furthermore, with the casings used for various units it would require a considerable charge to obliterate each one. Now the question of how many tens of pounds of explosives should the aircraft fly around with permanently mounted in it comes calling. Impractical and extremely threatening to aircrew safety.
As a maintainer I can speak from personal experience when I say that the last thing I want on an airplane are large fixed packages of explosives. Ordnance mishaps annually claim a number of lives or cause permanent disability. It is not unknown for maintenance personnel to inadvertently activate ejection seats while seated in them, cause unintentional firings of aircraft gun systems, or inadvertently activate various cartridge actuaded devices. With that in mind I would seriously hate to see what would happen to such an $80M (USD) airframe as the EP-3E if some J. Random Airman were to press the wrong button at the wrong time.
Having sufficient explosives to destroy a radar or other major electronic system in an aircraft is also not as simple as it would seem. When electronics are installed in an aircraft two things are taken into consideration:
(1)- Location with regard for antenna/other connection requirements.
(2)- Weight and balance.
It is not uncommon to have a single system with major components placed throughout an aircraft, note that ease of maintenance is not at all a requirement. Once the airframe is designed and subsequently the engines and hydraulic lines are fitted, the electronic systems inside the airframe are sort of jammed wherever they can fit. This is not done as haphazardly as it would seem given that the aircraft must be balanced properly in order for it to fly correctly. With that in mind a four hundred pound transmitter should be mounted in the center of the airplane with it's corresponding antenna in the nose. Now not only are we placing a huge amount of explosives in the airplane, but we are distributing them throughout the airframe. One of these packages inadvertently detonating would kill n people, and I am sure the families of those people would probably be less happy about that than having them detained in a slightly hostile country.

The next best thing would be to call in an air-strike from F-117s or B-2s to destroy the EP-3E on the ground.
Personally, I'd prefer not to go to war with the Chinese if that is okay.

...a responsibility we failed to consummate...
The crew is home, no one is dead, they will not gain the collected intelligence. Therefore we did come out of this ahead, admittedly just by a bare margin. This is an airplane, the Chinese still do not know what it is that we were after or how much other information we have collected. Therefore I would call the mission a success in a small respect in that they have no idea what it was we have (in terms of previously collected intelligence,) or had onboard that particular airplane. Again most importantly, the twenty-four members of the aircrew are home safely with a hell of a story.

SkiBum5: Yes and no. The explosives themselves are very stable (if you subject 'plastic' explosives to sudden shock while they are on fire they will detonate,) however the systems that are used to activate these devices are electrical in nature. This is where the failures will start and most certainly will kill people.
The aircraft itself is a part of U.S. territory, however the plane is currently on Chinese soil. If the U.S. were to destroy the plane we would be also responsible for the collateral damage done to the airfield and the potential risks to their citizens. ' Possession is nine-tenths of the law' or so the saying goes. We need to get the airframe back, although getting the Chinese to allow U.S. military technicians/aircrew into the country in order to repair/pilot the plane is a sticky situation. They have every legal right to deny anyone they wish entrance into the country just as we do.
In a strictly tactical sense the Chinese should have shot the plane out of the sky before/after the collision and then made up whatever story they wanted to later. Second guessing accomplishes extremely few things in this situation as what has happened is already over, and it now lies in the purview of the diplomats.

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