PLA long-distance missions a threat to Taiwan, Japan, U.S: scholar

2017/11/26 17:30:59 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
The photo shows a Tu-154MD electronic intelligence aircraft./photo courtesy of Ministry of National Defense ROC

The photo shows a Tu-154MD electronic intelligence aircraft./photo courtesy of Ministry of National Defense ROC

Taipei, Nov. 26 (CNA) A recent People's Liberation Army (PLA) air mission not far from Taiwan indicates that China poses a growing threat to regional security beyond Taiwan to western Japan, Tokyo and the U.S. territory of Guam, a local scholar has warned.

In its latest long-distance training mission on Nov. 22 that passed over the Bashi Channel south of Taiwan, China's PLA deployed several aircraft, according to Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND).

They included Xian H-6 (轟-6) bombers, Shaanxi Y-8 (運-8) transport aircraft, Tu-154MD electronic intelligence aircraft, and Sukhoi-30 fighter jets, the MND confirmed.

But the game changer on the Nov. 22 mission was the Ilyushin Il-78 refueling tanker, according to Chieh Chung (揭仲), a senior assistant research fellow at the National Policy Foundation, a Taiwan-based think tank affiliated with the opposition Kuomintang (KMT).

The Il-78 refueling tanker was being used on a long-distance training mission for the first time that day, and when combined with the Su-30 fighter jet it extends the PLA's growing threat to the region, Chieh told CNA on Sunday.

The Xian H-6U aerial refueling tanker aircraft used by the PLA on previous missions posed less of a threat because they were not compatible with the refueling probe of the PLA's Su-30 fighters, and were not worth modifying to serve the Su-30 because of their limited fuel capacity, Chieh said.

Without refueling, a fully equipped Su-30 fighter's combat range is less than 1,000 kilometers, Chieh said, but China's acquisition of three former-Ukrainian Il-78 tanker aircraft changes that.

Their fuel tanks are capable of holding 60 metric tons of fuel -- five times the capacity of the H-6U tanks -- and the Il-78 tankers can refuel Su-30 jets, Chieh said, meaning that Su-30 jets can escort PLA bombers and electronic intelligence aircraft on longer-range missions.

He warned that the combination of transport aircraft, fighter jets, electronic intelligence aircraft and refueling tankers featured in the PLA's Nov. 22 mission gives China a long-range strike group that could pose a serious threat to Taiwan, Japan, the South China Sea and even the U.S. territory of Guam.

China's PLA previously raised alarm in Taiwan when it flew several long-distance training missions near Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in August.

The missions then stopped out of consideration for the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party that ended on Oct. 24, U.S. President Donald Trump's first Asian tour and the APEC summit in Vietnam in early November, Chieh said.

The long-distance training missions skirting Taiwan's ADIZ resumed on Nov. 18 and 19, according to the MND, but they did not include the Il-78 refueling tanker on those two days.

(By Joseph Yeh)
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