Multiple bombers took off from a base in southern China and hit a training target before practicing take-off and landing at an airfield built on an unidentified island in the disputed South China Sea, the Chinese military said.
The footage of the bombers landing and taking off from the reef has been released by China’s CCTV broadcaster.
The maneuvers were aimed at advancing military training to “new era,” according to a pilot involved in the drills, cited by the army. He also described the exercise as preparation for “the west Pacific and the battle for the South China Sea.”
“A division of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) recently organized multiple bombers such as the H-6K to conduct take-off and landing training on islands and reefs in the South China Sea in order to improve our ability to ‘reach all territory, conduct strikes at any time and strike in all directions,’” read a Chinese Air Force statement issued on Friday.
Xian H-6 strategic bombers, developed on the basis of Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 aircraft, took part in the drill. The Sino website pointed out that the use of the reef as a relay node will vastly increase the ability of the Chinese strategic aircraft to strike targets located further away from the South China Sea. The bombers can be refueled and rearmed on the island, which will also provide a good resting spot for the pilots, it added.
The US insists on free navigation in the disputed area. The Pentagon called the latest exercise a “continued militarization of disputed features” in the region that only “serves to raise tensions and destabilize” it, Reuters reported, citing spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan.
Last week, China began the sea trials of its first domestically-built aircraft carrier. The 77,000-ton Type 001A vessel, designed to accommodate Shenyang J-15 fighter jets, is expected to join the country’s navy by the end of the year.
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei all have conflicting territorial claims and aspirations in the South China Sea. Beijing has been building artificial islands and deploying military infrastructure in the Spratly (Nansha) and Paracel (Xisha) archipelagos in order to strengthen its claim despite protests from its neighbors and the US, which is alarmed by growing Chinese influence in the region.
Washington has been sending its vessels and airplanes to carry out patrol missions near the disputed islands, causing outcry from Beijing, which insists that “provocative” actions undermine Chinese sovereignty and endanger the country’s forces.
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