A KJ-500 airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft attached to a naval aviation regiment under the PLA Southern Theater Command taxies on the runway before takeoff during a round-the-clock flight training exercise on August 19, 2020.Photo:China Military
During its real combat-oriented exercises and combat-readiness patrols in the Taiwan Straits since last week, the Chinese People‘s Liberation Army (PLA) has conducted intensive aerial and maritime reconnaissance missions of the island of Taiwan from both its west and east, with the number of operations surpassing that of fighter jets and bombers.
The operations, aimed at gathering intelligence on the forces of Taiwan, the US and Japan including their submarine activities, troop deployments and military facility situations, will prepare the PLA for a possible future battle, Chinese mainland experts said on Sunday.
Since Taiwan‘s defense authority has started publishing PLA aircraft activities near the island with detailed information, photos and flight paths on September 17 and as of press time on Sunday, it has announced 10 sorties by Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft on six different days. All flew above the waters to the southwest of the island.
This type of aircraft again approached the island on Sunday morning, with a KJ-500 early warning aircraft flying off the coast of Shantou, South China‘s Guangdong Province, Taiwan media reported on Sunday, citing an open source aircraft tracking service. This marks the 12th consecutive day the PLA has entered the island‘s self-declared air defense identification zone, it said.
By comparison, the island‘s defense authority only recorded two days of PLA activities involving fighter jets and bombers.
On the other side of the island, on Friday, a Y-9 reconnaissance aircraft flew through the Miyako Strait from the north, turned west and headed toward the east of Taiwan, before returning by the same flight path, according to a press release by Japan‘s Defense Ministry Joint Staff on the same day.
This is the first time a PLA warplane is known to have been spotted to the east of Taiwan since the PLA announced the exercises on September 18.
Also, a PLA intelligence-gathering ship has been operating to the east of Taiwan since last week, Taiwan media reported on Sunday.
The PLA has been increasing the intensity of patrols, searching and reconnaissance in order to gain more intelligence, with the goal of providing basic information and creating advantageous conditions for its future maritime activities and combat operations, Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times on Sunday.
Particularly, the eastern waters of Taiwan were less known to the PLA, including its geological and hydrological information as well as the Taiwan military‘s ongoing activities, Li said, noting that the PLA would need to carry out missions in all directions around Taiwan.
The Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, the Y-9 reconnaissance aircraft and the KJ-500 early warning aircraft are all special mission aircraft developed based on the Y-8 tactical transport aircraft.
The Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft is apparently equipped with an air-to-surface search radar to conduct reconnaissance on warships, and a magnetic anomaly detection tube and sonobuoys to search for submarines. Li said it can gather intelligence on submarine activities by Taiwan, the US and Japan, while also gaining knowledge of maritime geological and hydrological characteristics.
The Y-9 reconnaissance aircraft can gather intelligence on hostile troops deployments, the situation in hostile bases, ports and airfields, and eventually find patterns, Li said.
On Saturday, the US sent an EP-3E and a P-8A reconnaissance aircraft near the Chinese mainland over the South China Sea, according to information released by Beijing-based think tank the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI) on the same day.
The SCSPI noted that the EP-3E was only 47.81 nautical miles from Guangdong, leading Taiwan media to claim it is a new record for a US warplane to conduct close-up reconnaissance on the Chinese mainland, and that the US was “putting pressure on the PLA.”
Recently, the US and Taiwan have been keeping stepping on the red line with frequent interactions, but the PLA will not just sit by and watch, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese mainland military aviation expert, told the Global Times.
Increasing the intensity of military drills and normalized training in the Taiwan Straits is a clear warning to Taiwan secessionists: If they don‘t stop now, they are bound to be smashed into pieces, Fu said.