3 November 2015

Chinese Air and Naval Forces Have Conducted Live Fire Exercises in South China Sea

Chun Han Wong
November 2, 2015

China Conducted Military Drills in Past Week 

BEIJING—China’s military conducted aerial and maritime drills this past week, its official news portal said, just days after a U.S. warship sailed through disputed waters in the South China Sea in a direct challenge to Beijing’s territorial claims.

Reports on the exercises, which included live firing, didn’t specify where they took place but said they involved aircraft and warships from China’s southern Guangzhou Military Region and the South Sea Fleet, whose primary area of responsibility is the South China Sea. They featured simulations of actual wartime conditions and were aimed at improving combat readiness, according to the reports published on 81.cn, the People’s Liberation Army’s official web portal.

The reports didn’t refer to the Oct. 27 patrol conducted by a U.S. Navy destroyer close to Chinese-built islets in the South China Sea to assert freedom of navigation in the area, the subject of competing territorial claims between China and several Southeast Asian countries.

Beijing responded angrily to the patrol, accusing Washington of acting provocatively and threatening Chinese sovereignty in the region. Pentagon officials have said they expect to conduct as many as two so-called freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea each quarter, including one inside the Spratly island chain. The Defense Department also is encouraging other nations to conduct similar operations on their own.

A day after the U.S. patrol, a squadron of Chinese destroyers left port in the southern Chinese city of Zhanjiang and sailed to a “certain” sea to conduct a series of live-fire exercises, while aircraft from Guangzhou Military Region practiced attacking seaborne targets, the PLA Daily said in reports published Friday.

The destroyer squadron held day and nighttime exercises spanning air-defense, anti-submarine and antisurface-warfare drills, the PLA Daily said. During one of the drills, the Chinese warships successfully shot down a target that simulated an “incoming missile,” the newspaper added.

Meanwhile, jet fighters from the South Sea Fleet on Friday conducted drills at a “certain” airfield in the South China Sea, according to the PLA Daily’s navy news portal.

The portal published photos of J-11 fighters—Chinese variants of the Russian-made Su-27 jet—that appeared armed with missiles, both in midflight and landing at an airfield.

The report didn’t identify where the airfield was located, though several Chinese media outlets said the J-11 jets appear to have been deployed to Woody Island, located southeast of China’s Hainan Island and a part of the Paracels island chain that is also claimed by Vietnam. Woody Island, known as Yongxing Island in Chinese, is home to China’s only operational large airfield in the South China Sea, Chinese media said.

In a separate report Saturday, the PLA Daily said a destroyer squadron from the South Sea Fleet on Friday conducted drills in the South China Sea with a French frigate, the Vendémiaire, which was on a four-day visit. The warships practiced procedures related to unplanned encounters and logistics resupply at sea, the newspaper said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, on a swing through Asia that includes stops in Seoul and Kuala Lumpur, said Sunday that China’s actions in the South China Sea have spurred Asian nations to deepen their relationship with the U.S.

“The attention to the disputed claims in the South China Sea, the prominence of those disputes, is having the effect of causing many countries in the region to want to intensify their security cooperation with the United States,” Mr. Carter said on a military jet before landing in South Korea.

Mr. Carter didn’t specify what form some of that cooperation could take. But as he has worked to shore up support to counter Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea, other nations have expressed interest in new ships, weaponry and intelligence and cyber capabilities, among others.

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