Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Liaoning Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is operating in the East China Sea following two weeks in the Philippine Sea. The CSG is now likely heading home after its brief Western Pacific patrol. Meanwhile, Chinese Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have been transiting the Miyako Strait from the East China Sea into the Pacific and returning the same way on Sunday and Monday, according to the Japanese Ministry of Defense.
Comprised of carrier CNS Liaoning (16), guided-missile cruisers CNS Anshan (103) and CNS Wuxi (104), guided-missile destroyer CNS Chengdu (120), frigate CNS Zhaozhuang (542) and fast combat support ship CNS Hulunhu (901) transited the Miyako Strait from the East China Sea into the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 16 and then began flight operations in the Philippine Sea. Japan’s Joint Staff Office (JSO) of the Ministry of Defense said the CSG had sailed northward through the Miyako Strait into the East China Sea on Sunday. The release also included the following table of sightings of the Liaoning CSG from December 28-31.
|Time and Date||Location||Ships sighted|
|224 miles east of Oki Daito Island||Carrier Liaoning, cruiser Wuxi, destroyer Chengdu, fast combat support ship Hulunhu|
|192 miles northeast of Oki Daito Island||Carrier Liaoning, cruiser Wuxi, destroyer Chengdu, fast combat support ship Hulunhu|
|330 miles east of Kita Daito Island||Carrier Liaoning, cruisers Anshan and Wuxi, destroyer Chengdu, frigate Zhaozhuang, fast combat support ship Hulunhu|
|137 miles south of Oki Daito Island||Carrier Liaoning, cruisers Anshan and Wuxi, destroyer Chengdu, frigate Zhaozhuang, fast combat support ship Hulunhu|
From Wednesday to Saturday, Liaoning conducted flight operations with about 20 launches and recoveries of fighters and around 40 take-offs and landings of helicopters from the carrier. Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) fighter aircraft were scrambled in response to the fighter activity from the carrier. The release added that an approximate total of 320 take-offs and landings of both fighters and helicopters had been carried out between December 17th to 31st. Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer JS Ariake (DD-109), replenishment ship JS Towada (AOE-422) along with a JMSDF P-3C Orion Maritime Patrol Aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 5 based at Naha Air Base, Okinawa monitored the PLAN CSG according to the release.
The JSO said on Sunday, a Chinese WZ-7 Soaring Dragon unmanned aerial vehicle flew in from the East China Sea through the Miyako Strait, and after reaching the Pacific Ocean in an area south of the Sakishima Islands, it reversed course and returned to the East China Sea via the Miyako Strait. The release stated that JASDF fighters had been scrambled in response to the UAV’s flight and this was the first time that the WZ-7 UAV had been sighted operating around Japan. On Monday, a release by the JSO said, a WZ-7 UAV flew in from the East China Sea and that the UAV followed the same flight route as the one on Sunday and that JASDF fighters were scrambled in response.
The WZ-7 UAV, which has been in service since 2018, is a high-altitude, long-endurance UAV with a similar profile and mission as the U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk, though the Soaring Dragon’s range and endurance are less than the Global Hawk. The Miyako Strait is a 155-mile-wide passageway between Okinawa and Miyako Island which are considered international waters and airspace, Chinese military ships, aircraft and UAVs transit regularly through it from and to the East China Sea with Japan’s military shadowing their movements owing to their proximity to Japan.