BEIJING — China’s air force has staged one of its largest-ever drills amid heightened tensions with Japan and Beijing’s southern neighbors over territorial claims, state media reported Friday.
The air combat exercises involving more than 100 pilots were held over 11 days last month in the vast northwestern region of Xinjiang, according to the website of the Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily and other official news outlets.
Pilots practiced engaging in dog fights and countering electro-magnetic interference, the reports said.
Aircraft taking part came from 14 separate units and included China’s most modern jet fighters, the J-10 and J-11, along with older models and two-seater Sukhoi Su-30s purchased from Russia, the reports said.
The exercises are a vivid demonstration of China’s vastly improved military capabilities that have unnerved other Asian nations and spur a renewed U.S. focus on the region. The Global Times newspaper published by People’s Daily called them the largest in recent years in both firepower and numbers of aircraft, and said they also involved large numbers of technicians and experts on missiles, radar and other related technologies.
They came amid stepped-up sea patrols around East China Sea islands claimed by China but controlled by Japan that followed an explosion of violent anti-Japanese protests across China in September.
Beijing has dispatched China Marine Surveillance vessels almost daily to confront Japanese Coast Guard cutters around the uninhabited rocks north of Taiwan, known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Taiwan, which calls the islands Diaoyutai, also claims them.
The drills also follow renewed feuding between China and other claimants to islands and maritime territory in the South China Sea. Aggressive patrolling by Chinese vessels has prompted Vietnam and the Philippines to bolster their forces with additional ships, planes, and submarines, and has drawn in the U.S., which insists on free navigation through the region of crucial shipping lanes and rich fishing stocks and undersea mineral wealth.
While the exercises were being held, China’s navy also for the first time launched and recovered aircraft from the country’s first aircraft carrier, a refurbished Ukrainian craft that will be armed with J-15 fighter-bombers, a Chinese adaptation of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33.