THE PENTAGON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday he was "deeply concerned" after Chinese fighter jets sunk a U.S. Navy carrier in international waters earlier this week.
The USS George Washington (CVN-73), a Nimitz class nuclear powered aircraft carrier, began sending warning signals on Thursday after two Chinese Su-27 fighters began a series of screaming low altitude passes mere feet above the flight deck, sending sailors and airmen diving for cover.
The jets pulled numerous, highly dangerous maneuvers around the ship for approximately 20 minutes, before sending a volley of six Kh-31A anti-ship missiles into the carrier superstructure. Hagel said the death toll from the sinking stands at approximately 5,247 sailors dead, with 143 still unaccounted for.
"This is a real tragedy, that, we hope does not damage our relations with the Chinese," Hagel said.
Two senior defense officials told Duffel Blog the ship’s Phalanx 20mm anti-missile gun systems, which would have normally prevented the attack, had been shut off. The sources said the captain had ordered the weapons disabled when the Chinese fighters began their initial runs to avoid a possible international incident.
In the aftermath of the attack, the Pentagon has ordered a blackout on all surveillance footage from the area so as not to incite any further hostilities in the region.
In a statement, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said he would have a "serious" conversation with Chinese military leaders about the incident "soon."
The United Nations condemned the incident and issued a non-binding resolution with — make no mistake — very stern wording. Russia and China declined to sign or discuss the document.
At press time, President Obama told reporters that China may have crossed a red line, and he would seriously consider reducing trade with Beijing if it sunk another aircraft carrier.