Chinese H-6 Bomber at Zhuhai Airshow. (Wendell Minnick/Staff)
TAIPEI — Japan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) has posted an impressive interactive stop/play website that explains to readers in animated graphic terms the flight patterns of Chinese military aircraft in the East China Sea
“China has rapidly intensified its activities surrounding Japan’s airspace, expanded its operational areas, and diversified its flight patterns,” said the website.
The website points to intrusions by Chinese State Oceanic Administration (SOA) aircraft, such as the fixed-wing Y-12, and the Chinese military’s H-6 bomber, Y-8 airborne early warning aircraft, and Tu-154 intelligence collection aircraft.
The website does not confirm, but only suspects, intrusions by Chinese fighter aircraft, listing the Sukhoi Su-27 and Chengdu J-10 fighters and Xian JH-7 fighter-bomber as possible offenders.
The number of fighter sorties, including “presumptions,” by Japanese fighter aircraft went from negligible in 2001 to around 300 in 2012. To be fair, the number of new radar and intelligence collection stations built over the past several years along the Ryukyus Island chain, such as Seburi-yama Mountain on Kyushu Island, Fukue-jima Island and Miyako-jima Island, provide better surveillance of the East China Sea.
There is the J/FLR-4 facility on Miyako-jima Island, 200 kilometers east of the Senkaku Islands. The J/FLR-4, activated in 2009, is a panoramic very-high-frequency (VHF), ultrahigh-frequency and super-high-frequency intercept signal intelligence/electronic intelligence (SIGINT/ELINT) system.
There is another J/FLR-4 base on Fukue-jima and just north of Okinawa is a SIGINT and COMINT station on Kikaijima Island. In operation since 2006, it consists of a large, indigenously designed, circularly disposed antenna array for VHF and high-frequency direction finding. On Google Earth, this facility resembles a crop circle.
On Dec. 13, 2012, a fixed-wing aircraft (Y-12) belonging to China’s SOA intruded into Japanese airspace above the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by China and controlled by Japan. In response, the Japanese government protested the intrusion to Beijing.
“Even after this incident, aircraft belonging to SOA has continued to fly by Japan’s territorial airspace, and we have confirmed such cases for 12 times since then. The most recent case was on February 21, 2014.”
Since January 2013, Japan has scrambled fighters in response to intrusions by a Y-8 airborne early warning aircraft and an H-6 bomber between Okinawa’s main island and Miyakojima Island into the Pacific Ocean for the first time, in July and September, respectively.
“Moreover, in October, two Y-8 airborne early warning aircraft and two H-6 bombers showed the same flight pattern … for three consecutive days. In November, Tu-154 intelligence gathering aircraft flew in the East China Sea for two days in a row.”
China’s Nov. 23 announcement that it had established the “East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone,” which included the Senkaku Islands, did little to downplay Japan’s concerns.
“The announced measures unduly infringe the freedom of flight in international airspace, which is the general principle of international law, and have no validity whatsoever on Japan.”
To further aggravate the situation, on the same day a Tu-154 intelligence gathering aircraft and a Y-8 airborne early warning and control (AWAC) aircraft flew in the East China Sea.
In September 2013, a Japanese fighter confirmed the presence of a UAV, presumably Chinese, flying above the East China Sea.
“As the Japanese Government, in light of firm commitment to protect the territorial land, waters, and airspace of Japan, we will continue to conduct warning and surveillance activities by taking all possible measures. At the same time, we will comply with the international law and Self-Defense Forces law to conduct scrambles strictly,” the government said.
Photographs on the MoD website, taken by the Japanese Air Force, of Chinese aircraft help identify the exact mission parameters of each craft.
The Tupolev tail number seen on the website is the B-4015, which identifies it as a Tu-154M/D ELINT. The aircraft is actually disguised as a China United Airlines airliner, but the bubbles along the belly of the aircraft indicate otherwise. One of the bubbles is believed to be a synthetic aperture radar.
The Y-8 appears to be the 9301, but the tail number is unclear. If so, it is one of two Y-8Js belonging to the Chinese Navy for AWACS missions. The bulged nose holds an L-band pulse-doppler radar.
The H-6 medium-range bomber photos are clear, 81215/17, but data on what variant is unknown. ■