Why Did China Send Soviet-era J-7 To Taiwan Strait?

The Chinese military’s use of ageing J-7 jets in a Taiwan fly-past last month has raised questions about why the second-generation fighters were deployed alongside more modern warplanes, Taipei-based newspaper the Liberty Times reported.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force has started to gradually decommission its fleet of J-7 fighter jets and replace them with more advanced, next generation ones, according to a report by CCP run media Global Times.

A total of seven PLA aircraft, namely a Y-8 electronic warfare aircraft, two J-16 fighter jets and four J-7 fighter jets, entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on Thursday, the island’s defense authorities said in a statement released on the same day.

A H-6K bomber fly over the Taiwan Strait. Source Tainwanese MoD.

Military sources raised the possibility that the planes offer a cost-efficient way of honing the People’s Liberation Army’s combat drills and testing Taiwan’s responses. They might also have been a way of testing whether all the island’s warplanes have resumed operations.

When asked about if the J-7s in the Thursday exercise were unmanned versions, Taiwan’s air force said they were indeed J-7s and not drones, according to Liberty Times reports.

The “island encirclement exercise” on June 17 included four J-7s – fighters originally modelled on 1960s Soviet MiG-21s and known as “grandpa fighter jets” in Taiwan. It was the first time the jets had been used on such an operation since they started in 2016.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said China flew 28 warplanes within its airspace last month.  

The formation of several fighter jets and bombers entered the southwestern part of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, the ministry added. Taiwan’s air force deployed several planes and initiated its air defense systems in response.  

China has repeatedly deployed warplanes and naval vessels near Taiwan over the last few years as part of a pressure campaign on the self-ruled island. Beijing sent 25 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone back in April.

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