China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is conducting an air-and-sea exercise into Pacific waters during the early part of December, with ships and aircraft transiting through international waters south of Japan’s Okinawa.
Japan’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement that on 4 December Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) ships and Lockheed P-3C Orions had escorted a PLAN flotilla of five ships through the Miyako Strait.
The PLAN flotilla comprised Type 052 Luhu-class destroyer Harbin (112), Type 051C Luzhou-class destroyer Shijiazhuang (116) and the Type 054A Jiangkai II-class frigates Yantai (538) and Yancheng (546). These were supported by the Type 903 Fuchi-class replenishment ship Taihu (889). All ships are assigned to the PLAN’s North Sea Fleet based at Qingdao.
The air component of the exercise started on 6 December, with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) intercepting a variety of PLAN aircraft headed out into the Pacific, also via international airspace over the Miyako Strait, on two consecutive days.
On both occasions, these included a pair of Shaanxi Y-8J maritime airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft, a Shaanxi GX-8 electronic intelligence (ELINT) gathering platform, and a pair of Xian H-6G bombers. The Y-8J and GX-8 carried codes indicating they were assigned to the PLAN’s Laiyang-based 2nd Division, while the H-6s carried serial numbers indicating it belonged to the PLAN’s 17th Air Regiment, East Sea Fleet, based at Jiangsu-Benniu, west of Shanghai.
The Y-8Js photographed by the JASDF sported a semi-spherical dome, likely for SATCOM, on its top fuselage. This is the first time this variant has been seen with this dome, although it is fitted onto several variants of China’s special mission Y-8/Y-9s.