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.
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.
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.