20:30 GMT28 February 2021
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    Last week, US Indo-Pacific Command announced that a Navy carrier strike group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt had entered the South China Sea for “routine operations”. The move was followed immediately thereafter by China deploying bombers, fighters, and an anti-submarine warfare turboprop for drills off Taiwan.

    Last weekend’s Chinese air drills southwest of Taiwan appear to have been a direct response to the arrival of the US carrier group in the region, with radio chatter collected by the US and its allies indicating that Chinese bomber pilots had been given orders to simulate an attack run on the 88,000 tonne carrier using anti-ship missiles, FT reports, citing sources said to be ‘familiar with intelligence’.

    Some 28 People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) aircraft, including at least eight H-6 bombers, four J-16 fighters, and a Y-8 anti-submarine warfare plane, entered Taiwan’s so-called ‘Air Defence Identification Zone’ (ADIZ) between 23 and 24 January. The deployment came in the immediate aftermath of the arrival of a US carrier strike group in the South China Sea on 23 January.

    An F/A-18E Super Hornet, assigned to the “Blue Diamonds” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 146, lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) May 25, 2020
    US Navy/Zachary Wheeler
    An F/A-18E Super Hornet, assigned to the “Blue Diamonds” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 146, lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) May 25, 2020

    PLAAF’s maritime strike H-6 bombers can be armed with up to six YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missiles, and/or 6-7 KD-20 air-launched cruise missiles. The former can accelerate to Mach 3 in flight, making them difficult to defend against by carrier groups’ elaborate air and missile defence systems, such as the Aegis or SM-2 fleet area defence missiles.

    The Aviationist contributor David Cenciotti points out that while not confirmed to have been involved in last week’s missions, modified H-6s can carry the DF-21D, an air-launched version of the DF-21 ‘Carrier Killer’ anti-ship ballistic missile, which has a range of up to 1,450 km, a speed of up to Mach 6, and a conventional or nuclear payload.

    Military vehicles carrying DF-21D missiles are displayed in a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on September 3, 2015, marking the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan and the end of World War II
    © AFP 2021 / GREG BAKER
    Military vehicles carrying DF-21D missiles are displayed in a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on September 3, 2015, marking the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan and the end of World War II
    The Pentagon appeared to confirm that the Chinese drills off Taiwan were directed against US forces late Friday, with Indo-Pacific Command spokesman Mike Kafka blasting China’s “attempt to use its military as a tool to intimidate or coerce” others while stressing that the USS Theodore Roosevelt-led carrier strike group had “closely monitored” all Chinese navy and air force activity. “At no time did they pose a threat to US Navy ships, aircraft, or sailors,” Kafka stressed.

    Biden vs. Beijing

    Despite campaigning on trying to fix the 'toxic' China-US relationship that came about under Donald Trump, the Biden administration began ramping up tensions with China almost immediately after coming into office last week. Along with the deployment of the strike group to the South China Sea, Washington publicly promised to help Japan defend the Senkaku Islands, the strategic archipelago of uninhabited rocks contested by Tokyo and Beijing that’s situated in the East China Sea between the Chinese mainland and Japan’s Ryukyu Islands.

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