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China-Russia joint air patrol improves air-sea co-ordination

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force aircraft photographed a Chinese Shaanxi Aircraft Industry Group Corporation Y-8G (GX-3) electronic warfare aircraft as it operated with Russian and Chinese strategic bombers over the East China Sea on 14 December 2023. (Japan Ministry of Defense)

Chinese and Russian military forces have conducted their second joint strategic air patrol of 2023 in an effort to improve their air and naval force co-operation.

The joint air patrol, which was conducted on 14 December, comprised a nucleus of two Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) XAC H-6K and two Russian Federation Tupolev Tu-95M strategic bombers. An estimated 13 other Russian and Chinese combat aircraft participated in the patrol at various stages, according to the Japan Ministry of Defense (MoD).

Several of the Russian-Chinese aircraft appeared to have also co-ordinated with a Type 055 destroyer of the PLA Navy (PLAN) operating in the Sea of Japan (East Sea). Chinese state-owned media described the joint air operation as a possible “sea-air integration operation”.

According to the Japan MoD, the Type 055 destroyer passed northwards into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) through the Tsushima Strait between 11 and 12 December.

The joint air patrol appears to be a follow-on of the Sino-Russian Exercise ‘Northern/Interaction-2023' in July, which involved combat training between naval and air units. During this exercise Chinese and Russian units conducted “maritime and air escort, deterrence and expulsion, and anchorage defence” operations, according to the Chinese Ministry of National Defense (MND). The PLA Air Force (PLAAF) supported ‘Northern/Interaction-2023' with a range of aircraft such as Xi'an Aircraft Company (XAC) YY-20 tankers and Shaanxi Aircraft Industry Group Corporation (SAIC) KJ-500 and KJ-200 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.

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