Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Japanese F-15s scramble to intercept Chinese bombers, UAV

Chinese Navy H-6G intercepted by the JASDF. Click on thumbnail for high resolution image (Japanese MoD)

The past two days have seen the Japanese Ministry of Defence announce that it had scrambled fighters to intercept Chinese military aircraft that have breached Japan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). That in itself is nothing much out of the ordinary, since the Japanese Air Self Defense Force has scrambled 306 times against Chinese aircraft in 2012, which works out to almost once daily.

Map released by the Japanese MoD (and annotated by me) of the H-6G track. Click on thumbnail for high resolution image.

What is different in the latest interceptions is the type of aircraft and their flight profile. On Sunday the 8th of September, the JASDF scrambled fighters against a pair of Chinese Navy Xi’an H-6G bombers (see photo above of one of the H-6s taken by the JASDF). The bombers flew through international airspace over the Miyako Straits south of the Japanese island of Okinawa, headed out into the Pacific before turning back towards China the same way it came.

This was followed the next day with yet another new move by the Chinese. This time, JASDF interceptors were scrambled against another interloper, which turned out to be an “unidentified drone”. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) was detected flying southeast off the coast of Zhejiang before circling the skies approximately 100 miles (160km) north of the disputed Senkaku/Islands before heading off in the directions of China. This event marks the first time a land-based Chinese UAV has approached the Japanese ADIZ.

From the photo of the UAV released by the Japanese MoD, it would appear to be a BZK-005 Medium Altitude, Long Endurance UAV. Designed by the Beijing University of Aeronautics & Astronautics and Harbin Aircraft Industry Group, little is known about this obscure UAV. It was unveiled in 2006 and believed to boast an endurance of 40 hours with a service ceiling of 8,000m (26,000 feet). The type is known to be in service with the Chinese Navy and an unknown reconnaissance unit flies the UAV from the nearby base of Huangyan-Luqiao (see map)

Map released by the Japanese MoD (and annotated by me) of the UAV's track. Click on thumbnail for high resolution image.

The H-6G is a Chinese-built version of the Tupolev Tu-16 ‘Badger’ bomber that have been constantly modernized and updated by the Chinese, and is utilized as a missile carrier carrying anti-ship or cruise missiles. Alternatively, the H-6G can also carry Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) pods in the Electronic Warfare role. The serial number on the photographed H-6G indicates that it belongs to the Chinese Navy’s 17th Air Regiment, East Sea Fleet based at Jiangsu-Benniu, west of Shanghai.

The Japanese MoD has not identified the interceptors involved on both occasions; however they were almost certainly Mitsubishi-built F-15J/DJ Eagles from the JASDF’s 204th Hikotai, based at Naha on Okinawa. The unit’s fighters have been at the forefront of confronting Chinese aircraft flying in Japan’s ADIZ.

The intercepted Chinese UAV (Japanese MoD)

As has been mentioned during the earlier interception of the Chinese Y-8, this flight profile by the Chinese bombers is unusual and had hitherto been unknown. These latest overflights take place in the days immediately before the anniversary of the Japanese government’s nationalisation of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in 2012, causing the simmering dispute to flare up in a big way.

However, the Chinese Defense Ministry, responding to both overflights, said that the overflight was a “routine task” and “not aimed at any country”, and reiterated – correctly – that China enjoys freedom of overflight in relevant waters. More interestingly, it also said that the Chinese military will organize similar activities to the Western Pacific in the future. There you have it, ladies and gentlemen: The new normal.

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