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More Chinese War Practice Is Going On In The South China Sea

March 31, 2018

Via China Military Online.

It appears the US Navy’s freedom of navigation exercises are having close to no effect on the current stalemate over the disputed Asian waters. Rather than discourage China’s efforts at annexing the disputed region, Beijing’s navy run a tight schedule of realistic exercises each month. The PLA’s main news outlet never fails to publish news and photos of these activities.

The first took place from March 20 until 22, a three-day live fire drill involving the landing ships Emeishan and Hengshan at an undisclosed location. The PLAAF then conducted mock attacks involving its newest aircraft, the Su-35 and the H-6K missile bomber over the Miyako Strait soon after. These are the latest proof of China’s firm control over its southern seas.

Unlike previous maritime exercises, the latest involved two atypical vessels–landing ships designed for transporting armor to shore. The photos released by the PLAN suggest these are Type 72A LSTs operating near island features. Their exact location in the vast South China Sea was never revealed but it’s possible both Emeishan and Hengshan were somewhere between Hainan and the Paracels.

The ships practiced a boarding operation where armed sailors “capture” a target vessel and secure its lower deck. This could mean the PLAN are serious about policing the South China Sea and other vital waterways with or without an international mandate. The ships’ crews also practiced disembarking on smaller landing craft and simulated combat with the anti-aircraft guns onboard.

The exercises in late March didn’t elicit any response from other South China Sea claimants like the Philippines or Vietnam. But neither did satellite images published by Reuters a week later showing an armada of PLAN warships, including the aircraft carrier Liaoning, sailing in a convoy not far from Hainan. The purpose of the display, which resembled a naval parade, was never announced although it did seem to advertise the sheer size of the PLAN’s southern fleet.

The month turned out to be a busy one for the Chinese military as various training events were held just days apart. It’s still unclear whether a “high-sea training mission” involving Su-35 multirole fighters and H-6K bombers over the Miyako Starit northeast of Taiwan happened at the same time as the Hainan armada.

The frequent military flights skirting Taiwan’s airspace is no small matter. These demonstrations are obvious clues on how the PLAAF may conduct a total encirclement of the island. One photo published by China’s defense ministry showed an H-6K carrying what appears to be a subsonic cruise missile on its wing. A single H-6K can deliver a half dozen of these munitions, which are attached to hardpoints on either wing, anywhere between 1,000 to 3,000 kilometers away from its airbase.

During the last week of March the PLA announced 12 H-6K’s will be flown at the same time for an unspecified purpose. If these crossed the Miyako Strait again then it’s obvious the purpose was to remind Taiwan how vulnerable it is. A flight of 12 H-6K’s can deliver several dozen cruise missiles and launch them far beyond the range of ground-based air defenses and are perfectly suited for neutralizing airports, command centers, and local infrastructure.

Such brazen displays shouldn’t be ignored. They’re glaring advertisements of Beijing’s fondness for a permanent war footing.

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