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    US Air Force Demurs on Spy Plane Posing as Civilian Aircraft as Chinese Think Tank Confirms Claims

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    Earlier this month, a US spy plane was observed seemingly changing its unique transponder code to disguise itself as a Malaysian civilian aircraft. While a top US Air leader has refused to confirm or deny the incident, swearing the US was “following the rules that day,” the claims of duplicity have been independently confirmed.

    At the Air Force Association's virtual Air, Space & Cyber conference on Wednesday, Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, the commander of Pacific Air Forces, refused to confirm or deny the US aircraft's actions, but objected to the term “spoofing” being used to describe them.

    On September 8, a US Air Force RC-135W Rivet Joint signals intelligence aircraft took off from Kadena Air Force in Okinawa, , bound for the South Sea. While multiple daily US spy plane flights across the disputed waterway have become common in recent months, this flight caught the eye of the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI) think tank after it “disappeared” from international aircraft tracking programs and was “replaced” by a Malaysian aircraft on the same flight path. 

    The plane changed its identity on aircraft tracking programs by turning off one transponder and turning on another. The “Mode S” transponder code, broadcast in hexadecimal format, is assigned by the UN-governed International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and gives the aircraft a unique identification in the skies. Moreover, the transponder tells other aircraft as…

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