China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has conducted a series of extensive exercises with warplanes around a Western Theater Command Air Force base.
A J-11 fighter jet was seen flying at very low levels in the mountains, and in another piece of footage, as many as seven J-11s could be seen flying in a large formation, the Chinese media reported.
PLA’s Western Theater Command is one of the five theater commands and includes areas such as Sichuan, Tibet, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Shaanxi, Yunnan, Chongqing. Since the Chinese Western Theatre Command is wholly India centric, the military exercises amid the border stand-off raise serious concerns.
The state-owned Global Times has quoted an analyst as saying that the drills honed and demonstrated the Chinese military’s capability to safeguard the country’s western border.
J-11, a Chinese multirole fighter, is capable of conducting air superiority and ground attack missions. A licensed-built variant of the Sukhoi Su-27SK, J-11 is armed with a 30mm GSh-30-1 cannon.
The aircraft is capable of carrying a wide range of missiles, including PL-12 radar-guided air-to-air missile, PL-9 short-range, infrared-homing air-to-air missile (AAM), PL-8 air-to-air missile, Vympel R-77 medium-range air-to-air missile, Vympel R-27 medium-to-long-range air-to-air missile, and Vympel R-73 short-range air-to-air missile.
Media reports suggest the mock drills were conducted by two teams, wherein operatives on the ground, who had moved to advanced locations, set up radio communication and guided the pilots of the multirole fighter jets, who then launched precision strikes on ground targets
The Chinese defense experts underlined that a large formation of seven J-11s shows the base’s capability to fight a large-scale air-to-air and air-to-ground combat.
The media reports, without naming the base, have said that the Air Force base where the exercises were conducted is located at an important strategic point in northwest China, making it a key force in air defense in the west and a major pivot point for national air defense.
India has been maintaining a close watch at the Hotan, Gar Gunsa, Kashghar, Hopping, Dkonka Dzong, Linzhi, and Pangat airbases of the PLAAF in the Xinjiang and Tibet regions. The Indian government sources had said that all of them have been highly active in recent times.
The GT report says that the airbase where exercises were conducted covers multiple types of terrains at very different altitudes, and the troops are tasked to fly in plateau regions and to high sea to safeguard China’s aerial interests.
In July, China had 36 aircraft and helicopters at the Hotan airbase in China’s Xinjiang region near Ladakh in India, according to the US Air Force’s China Aerospace Studies Institute (CASI).
The fleet included 24 Russian-designed J-11 or J-16 Flanker fighters along with six older J-8 fighters, two Y-8G transport, two KJ-500 airborne early warning aircraft, two Mi-17 helicopters, plus a number of CH-4 strike/reconnaissance drones.
India and China have been engaged in a border stand-off for seven months. After several rounds of military and diplomatic level talks, there are no signs of engagement. Both the countries have provided their troops with advanced logistic support in the subzero temperatures of the Himalayas, where survival becomes a challenge in the winters.