China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) flew six Xian H-6K long-range bombers through the strategically important Miyako Strait Thursday.
The Miyako Strait is located between the Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa. The strait that consists of a small passageway with international waters and airspace, is one of the main gateways for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to the Pacific Ocean.
The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) responded to PLAN by dispatching an unknown number of fighter jets. However, Japan ministry of defense revealed further in a statement that Chinese bombers did not violate Japanese airspace.
“It was “legal and proper” for the PLAAF to operate in the airspace and that it was a routine exercise and “no cause for alarm or speculation,” The Chinese Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
Japan “should not make a fuss about nothing or over-interpret, it will be fine once they get used to it,” the ministry added.
Japan scrambled fighter jets in March 2013 in response to a Chinese military exercise involving 13 aircraft flying through the Miyako Strait.
The PLAAF carried out similar drills in the Miyako Strait in September, November, and December respectively. In all three instances the JASDF dispatched fighter jets. According to the Japanese MOD, the JASDF scrambled its fighter jets 1,168 times in fiscal year 2016, up from 873 in 2015.
The H-6K long-range bomber is a derivative of the Soviet-era Tupolov Tu-16 twin-engined jet strategic bomber. In 2007, the PLAAF introduced the bomber’s latest variant fitted with a fuel-efficient engines and modern electronics.
The bomber can carry a payload of up to 12 tons. The H-6K, which lacks stealth capacity, can carry up to seven YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship missiles (six on wing pylons plus one in the bomb bay) or CJ-20 subsonic land-attack cruise missiles with an estimated range of 250 and 1,500 miles respectively, Franz-Stefan Gady at The Diplomat reported.