China has dispatched Russia-made Su-35 advanced fighters for joint combat cruise missions in South China Sea, in response to provocation by the US in January, the People's Liberation Army Air Force announced on Wednesday.
This is a pragmatic action for the air force to fulfill its mission in the new era and conduct a combat training military exercise," according to a notice on the PLA Air Force official Weibo social media account, Global Times reports.
The US had sent destroyers last month to the South China Sea, challenging China's claims in the region. "The appearance of advanced PLA fighter jets, capable of attacking surface combat vessels in this region is sort of a reaction to the provocation by the US," Xu Guangyu, a retired major general and senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told the Global Times.
China's claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
According to Xu, Su-35 fighters are more advanced than locally made aircraft for now. "Apart from the most advanced J-20, a China-made fourth generation stealth fighter jet, the Su-35 is more advanced than other Chinese fighter jets at this moment," Xu noted.
China reportedly bought 24 Su-35 fighter jets for $2 billion from Russia in 2015. Russia sent 10 Su-35 fighter jets to China, TASS reported in December, citing a source familiar with Russia's military. They followed a first batch of four fighters in 2016.
Although the air force did not reveal where the jets are deployed, if they land on a South China Sea island that could act as a significant deterrent to any outside forces trying to disturb the regional stability, Xu added.