China’s deployment of J-16D jets into Taiwan’s air defence zone this week marked the first sighting of the new high-tech warplanes, Taipei confirmed Tuesday, their electronic-jamming equipment posing a fresh threat to the island.
Taiwan lives under the constant spectre of invasion by China, which sees the self-ruled, democratic island as part of its territory to eventually be reclaimed — by force if necessary.
The final quarter of 2021 saw a massive spike of Chinese incursions into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ), with the biggest single day coming on October 4, when 56 warplanes entered the zone.
Sunday and Monday saw a dramatic show of force as well, with 52 warplanes entering the zone over the two days, according to the island’s defence ministry.
Among the 13 observed on Monday were two J-16D jets, which the ministry confirmed Tuesday to AFP was the first time the high-tech warplanes had been seen in action.
The new jets were first unveiled at an airshow in China in September, Chinese state-run media Global Times reported.
The J-16D comes with four jamming pods and two electronic warfare pods as well as two missiles under the jet’s belly, it said.
“It is capable of destroying radar to suppress and damage the enemy’s aerial defence capabilities,” Shu Hsiao-huang, an analyst at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defence and Security Research, told AFP.
These radar-jamming capabilities could “pave the way for subsequent attacks”, he added.
“It poses a big new threat to Taiwan’s air defence.”
The Global Times published a sabre-rattling editorial Tuesday, calling the appearance of the J-16D fighters a “self-evident” message.
“PLA (The People’s Liberation Army) warplanes will not only fly around Taiwan island, they could also… sooner or later fly over the island,” the editorial warned.
The two-day rash of incursions came on the heels of the United States and Japan carrying out naval exercises in the Philippine Sea last week, an area that includes waters just east of Taiwan.
Taiwan only started regularly publicising its data on air incursions in September 2020.
October remains the busiest month on record, with 196 forays into the defence zone, which extends well beyond Taiwan’s territorial airspace, overlapping with parts of China’s ADIZ.
Sunday’s 39 warplanes — the majority of them J-16 fighters — is tied with October 2 as the second-highest recorded number of incursions in a single day.
Beijing has ramped up pressure on Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen was elected president in 2016, as she considers the island a sovereign nation and not part of “one China”.
Last year, Taiwan recorded 969 incursions by Chinese warplanes, according to a database compiled by AFP — more than double the roughly 380 carried out in 2020.