The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is said to have dispatched 13 warplanes to the South China Sea (SCS) to conduct operations simulating an attack on the U.S. Navy’s USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier sailing in the region.
PLA aircraft that flew close to Taiwan's southwestern air defense identification zone and Dongsha Islands in the SCS include a Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, 8 H-6K bombers and 4 J-16 fighter jets.
Citing Chinese analysts, Global Times reported that the PLA bomber swarm aimed to deter the U.S. carrier which had entered the SCS the same day, and used the warship as a simulated target in an exercise.
“Escorted by J-16 fighter jets, eight H-6K bombers, capable of carrying a total of 48 anti-ship missiles, can launch a round of saturation attack on a hostile carrier, marking a strong deterrent against U.S. provocations,” the expert was quoted as saying by the report.
In a statement, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG) entered the sea January 23 to conduct routine operations. The trike group is conducting maritime security operations, which include flight operations with fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, maritime strike exercises, and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units. This is the first time a U.S. aircraft carrier has entered the South China Sea since Biden assumed office on January 20.
Reacting to the warship’s deployment, the Chinese analysts said that unlike in 2020 when American aircraft carriers “provocatively” entered the region, the PLA aircraft carrier Shandong is now standing by in the SCS as a stabilizer for the regional situation.
A PLA Navy flotilla consisting of guided missile destroyer Shenzhen, Wuhan and guided missile frigate Hengyang also conducted a series of combat-oriented drills in the disputed sea recently, China Central Television reported on Saturday.
Another expert who asked for anonymity told the Global Times that the PLA operations were not necessarily related to the U.S. aircraft carrier's arrival to the South China Sea, as the two sides were both conducting scheduled exercises. “The U.S. aircraft carrier's South China Sea operation shows the U.S. is maintaining its previous policies, and even if there were changes, it would take a long time for the Pentagon to make new decisions and orders to the carrier,” the expert said.