China has doubled the number of combat aircraft it sent to Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) this year. Besides, the jets have now begun flying further south to the Bashi channel.
According to Taiwan, of the 555 sorties conducted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the first six months of 2022, over 398 involved combat aircraft, compared with 187 in the same period last year, South China Morning Post reported.
The Chinese planes included fighter jets, bombers, and attack helicopters. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had been sending warplanes to Taiwan’s ADIZ as a tactic to intimidate the self-governed democratic island into submission. Beijing has also not ruled out the use of military force to reunify the island with the mainland.
Military analysts think the increasing use of combat jets was “worth noting.”
“In the past, the PLA’s air training and other missions in the region mostly involved slow-flying support planes, including reconnaissance and early warning aircraft,” Wang Kung-yi, director of Taiwan International Strategic Study Society, told South China Morning Post.
According to Wang, deploying fighters along with support planes would enable the PLA to “form an effective strike group” and reinforce its naval operations in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.
While 35 combat aircraft, including J-16s and one H-6 bomber, joined four other support planes on Jan. 23, the month of May witnessed 22 fighter jets joining eight other support planes.
The reason for the use of more combat jets is the development of aerial refueling planes, according to Chieh Chung, a senior researcher at the National Policy Foundation.
“It is because the PLA can now refuel fighter jets in the air through the tankers,” Chieh, who works with the Taipei-based think tank affiliated with the main opposition party the Kuomintang, told the news outlet.
“The development of aerial-refueling planes like Y-20s would allow the PLA fighters to join other support aircraft to expand their operational range and exercise long-range strike power,” he added.
He also said the PLA is now more confident to conduct operations away from the mainland, thanks to the development of tankers and sophisticated facilities like the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System.
China aims to develop air superiority extending from Taiwan Strait to the first island chain, which covers the Kuril Islands, Okinawa, the northern part of the Philippine archipelagos, the Malay Peninsula, and Taiwan – and even further. “Y-20s can help the PLA achieve this purpose as air refueling could help its fighter jets fly beyond the first island chain,” Chieh said.
Interestingly, China sent a Y-20 aerial refueling plane to accompany 17 fighter jets on missions near the Pratas Islands.
Other analysts too believe China has intensified the “real-combat training” requirement to take on Taiwan and to stop any foreign powers that hinder its mission.