Thursday, August 1, 2013

China ups the ante with Japan (by just that little bit) with overflight

PLAN Y-8J intercepted (and photographed) by the JASDF (© Japanese MoD)

On July 24, the Joint Staff of the Japanese Defense Ministry released a statement that the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) had scrambled interceptors against a Shaanxi Y-8 Maritime Patrol/Airborne Early Warning aircraft. Nothing new about that, given that the Japanese MoD had already previously noted that scrambles triggered by Chinese military aircraft entering Japan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) had been on the increase for years, except that this time it came with a slight twist. The aircraft, which turned out to be a Chinese Naval Air Force Y-8J, wasn’t content with skirting the hotly disputed Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands as the usual practice, but flew an approximately south-easterly course through international airspace between Japan’s southern Okinawa and Miyakojima Islands, headed out into the Pacific, before coming back up the same way heading towards its base in mainland China (see image of Y-8’s route, in red below).

Apparently, this is some kind of big deal. Well, I suppose it sort of is, given the much more modest nature of China’s previous aerial activities around Japan, and this is reportedly the first time Chinese military aircraft have reportedly flown this route (although Chinese Navy ships are semi-regular users of the international waters below). However, it still pales in comparison with five foreign aircraft poking around your airspace in one day (which included cruise missile-carrying intercontinental bombers circumnavigating international airspace around Japan)

The difference, I guess, is the simmering dispute over ownership of the supposedly resource-rich Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands between Japan (who currently administers the islands and calls it the Senkakus) and China (who claims the islands and calls it Diaoyu) which means that such Chinese overflights make the mainstream news much more readily than Russian ones. At the end of the day, it IS an escalation, even though in the greater scheme of things, it's not one that really should raise eyebrows by a large margin.

Just a little backgrounder: The Chinese aircraft in question, a Shaanxi Y-8J serialed 9321, is a converted Y-8 transport, which is itself a Chinese-built version of the Soviet Antonov An-12 ‘Cub’, an aircraft roughly the size, capability, performance and versatility of the Lockheed-Martin C-130H Hercules.

The Y-8J is among the oldest of the myriad special mission Y-8 variants which are known to be in use with the Chinese military. Equipped with a Racal (now Thales) Skymaster Pulse-Doppler air-and-sea-search radar in a enlarged, drooping nose radome, the variant was first spotted in 2000 and it is believed that the Chinese operate at least four aircraft with the Chinese Navy’s 2nd Naval Aviation Division, 4th Air Regiment based at Laiyang, Shandong Province.

Note: Excerpts of this post appears in a collaborative, much longer, piece over at War Is Boring.

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