The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) flew two Xian H-6K long-range heavy bombers, two Sukhoi Su-30 multirole fighter jets, and one Tupolev Tu-154MD electronic intelligence aircraft through the Tsushima Strait, a waterway between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, on December 18, Japan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a release.
The PLAAF aircraft entered Japan’s and South Korea’s overlapping air defense identification zones, according to military officials in both countries. The Japan Air Defense Force (JADF) and Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) scrambled Mitsubishi F-15J all-weather air superiority fighter jets and KF-16C/D, a variant of the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, in response respectively.
“Our fighter planes took normal tactical measures, identifying the models of the Chinese planes and flying aerial surveillance until they left,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
“This is a regular annual training arrangement of China’s air force that accords with the relevant international laws and practices and it isn’t aimed at any particular state, region and target,” a PLAAF spokesperson noted in a statement.
It was the first time that PLAAF warplanes flew through the Tsushima Strait to conduct drills in international airspace, the spokesperson added.
The PLAAF did not violate Japanese or South Korean airspace, according to Japanese and South Korean defense officials.
On the same day, Shaanxi Y-8 electronic countermeasures aircraft flew through international airspace between the Japanese islands of Okinawa and Miyako in the East China Sea. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD), this was part of a separate Chinese military drill. Taiwan dispatched aircraft and ships in response.
China also sent two H-6K bombers, one Tu-154 MD spy plane and one Y-8 electronic countermeasures/surveillance aircraft through the Miyako Strait last week. As I noted previously:
While PLAAF aircraft regularly circle Taiwan, China has lately been also stepping up flight operations around the strategically important Miyako Strait — a principal entryway for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) into the Pacific Ocean. Four H-6K bombers and one Shaanxi Y-8 electronic countermeasures aircraft flew through the waterway on December 9.
As I reported last month, on November 18 and 19 the PLAAF flew long-range bombers and support aircraft through the strait as part of what China has called “regular” drills.
“The [November 18-19 operation] was the first through the passageway since July when six H-6K bombers flew through the Miyako Strait and back,” I noted. “The PLAAF conducted similar exercises in the East China Sea, including flying through the Miyako Strait, in September, November, and December 2016.”
Japan also scrambled fighter jets on December 17 in response to three PLAAF Y-8 electronic countermeasures/surveillance aircraft flying between the Japanese southern islands of Okinawa and Miyako. The JASDF stood up a new F-15J air wing on Okinawa in early 2016 to deal with increased PLAAF presence in the area.