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PLA WZ-7 HALE seen over East Sea for first time

The Japan MoD has disclosed two airborne ELINT flights by Chinese PLA aircraft near Japanese airspace on 26 and 27 March 2024. (Japan Ministry of Defense/Janes)

A Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Guizhou WZ-7 Xianglong (Soaring Dragon) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was observed near Japanese airspace over the Sea of Japan (East Sea) for the first time.

This high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) UAV appeared from the direction of the “continental area” on “the morning of 26 March 2024”, the Japan Ministry of Defense (MoD) said.

A map issued by the MoD showed the WZ-7 flying a counterclockwise route over the Sea of Japan (East Sea) before turning northwest towards North Korea and Russia. The event prompted the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) to scramble fighter aircraft from its Chūbu (Central) Air Defense Force (of the JASDF Central Area sector), according to the MoD.

The WZ-7 “circled over the Sea of Japan [East Sea],” the MoD said.

Based on the MoD's map of the incident, Janes assesses that JASDF aircraft stopped tracking the WZ-7 after it exited Japan's air-defence identification zone (ADIZ). The MoD added, however, that the aircraft was observed heading “northwest, back towards the continent”.

The WZ-7 has previously been identified and monitored near and within Japanese airspace. Over a 48-hour period from 1 to 2 January 2023, the JASDF monitored at least two WZ-7 sorties near Japanese territory. However, these flights were over the Miyako Strait and over the Western Pacific.

It is possible that the latest WZ-7 originated from the PLA Air Force's (PLAAF's) Yishuntun Air Base near the city of Shuangliao in China's Jilin province, near North Korea. According to Janes

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