China has conducted drills using refueling aircraft over a group of planes taking off from Taiwan.
The China Daily reported on Saturday that 14 aircraft, including a Chinese helicopter, staged a series of flights over Taiwan-controlled airspace.
“An S-400 missile battery were used by the Chinese army as part of a routine exercise. The army aircraft used for the task included Su-30 fighters, J-11s, transport and surveillance aircraft, and JH-7 Tigers,” the report quoted an unnamed government source as saying.
Taiwan has protested. Its Vice-Minister of Defense, Wen Leung-ching, called the drills a “serious breach of international law” that had caused “massive anguish and concern” among Taiwan’s allies.
An air-traffic controller in Taiwan told The Diplomat that China’s use of refueling aircraft had never happened before.
“We are not familiar with the Chengdu JH-7 Tiger which we think is a new type of Chinese refueling jet. If the test in relation to this was intended for us, it was an imprudent choice as fuel frequencies are strictly controlled for flights in airspace above 1,000 meters,” he said.
“The weapon (shot down a plane) used [by China] is a precision ground attack missile,” he added.
China staged another similar exercise last week, The Diplomat reported.
China claims Taiwan, which has been ruled separately from the mainland for the past six decades, as its own territory. It officially became an independent nation in 1949 following a civil war between China and the Republic of China, which was administered by a pro-Japanese government.
China frequently conducts military drills in Taiwan, and President Xi Jinping vowed to “fight and win” the cross-strait conflict during his inauguration in 2013. The drills often include surveillance aircraft.
In an attempt to deter foreign military flights into the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan’s leaders have pushed for increased self-defense.
But Beijing routinely rejects such measures, complaining that Taiwan authorities do not understand the intent of China’s activities.
Despite the severe warnings from China, some Taiwan-based aerospace companies have experimented with developing air refueling missions.
It is unclear if the Chinese jets can use diesel or jet engines to refuel, but it is likely that they will be able to do so by 2020, The Diplomat reported.
“Any effort to extend Taiwan’s air power would be a welcome thing,” the company’s technical director told the magazine. “Fuel in flight is critical to our operations.”
The Russian defense agency, Rosoboronexport, has announced that it was also thinking about such a capability, the Diplomat reported.
“The possibility of using oil for maritime aviation isn’t so crazy,” its acting general director said. “During a blackout in polar regions and interplanetary space, being able to refill in air could be an effective way to link up with the necessary spare parts.”