NewsBreak: Japanese Fighters Intercept China’s High-Flying WZ-7 Drone For First Time..

Chinese WZ-7 surveillance drones have appeared for two days in a row over the East China Sea, prompting Japanese fighter jets to scramble to intercept them on both occasions.

This is the first time that the Japanese authorities have reported intercepts of the WZ-7, one of the most advanced drones in Chinese service, and it could be connected with the recent movements of the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and its supporting task force in the same area. Either way, the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) drone, with its unique joined-wing design, may well become a more regular feature of Chinese activities in the wider region, providing capabilities loosely analogous to the RQ-4 Global Hawk .

Yesterday, January 1, the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) disclosed that a single WZ-7 — the type is also known as the ‘Soaring Dragon’ — had been active in the East China Sea as part of a mission that lasted from the morning to the afternoon, local time. According to the MoD’s statement, the drone appeared over the East China Sea, then passed through the Miyako Strait, which separates the main island of Okinawa and the Miyako Islands, which are also part of Okinawa Prefecture but which are located around 160 miles to the west. Once over the Philippine Sea, the drone flew south of Japan’s Sakishima Islands, further to the west, then reversed its course and headed back toward the main island of Okinawa.

In response, the Japanese MoD confirmed that fighters from the Southwestern Air Force of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, or JASDF, were scrambled to respond. Unconfirmed reports suggest that F-15J Eagle fighter jets were involved, which would make sense as these aircraft are based at Naha Air Base on the main island of Okinawa.

A tweet from the Japan Joint Staff reporting on a previous scramble by JASDF F-15J fighter jets over the East China Sea, in October 2022:

Today, the Japanese MoD again reported activity by another WZ-7 drone, in the same timeframe and flying an almost identical path from the East China Sea out into the Philippine Sea, bringing it close to Okinawa and other outlying Japanese islands. Exactly how close the drone came to Japanese territory or Japan’s exclusive economic zone is unclear, but there’s no indication that the WZ-7s in question departed from international airspace. It’s also worth noting that, further west, is the island of Yonaguni, the westernmost inhabited island of Japan, just off the east coast of Taiwan. With recently announced Japanese plans to deploy a surface-to-air missile defense unit here, this location is also likely to be of growing interest to China.

Meanwhile, the Japanese MoD disclosed that the carrier Liaoning had passed through the Miyako Strait on January 1. Transiting from the Philippine Sea into the East China Sea, the flattop was accompanied by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Type 055 destroyers Anshan and Wuxi , the Type 052D destroyer Chengdu , the Type 054A frigate Zaozhuang , and the Type 901 fast combat support ship Hulunhu .

According to the MoD, between Wednesday and Saturday of last week, the Liaoning conducted flight operations involving around 20 launches and recoveries of fighters and some 40 take-offs and landings by helicopters. Again, JASDF fighter jets were scrambled in response to fighter activity aboard the carrier. Between December 17 to 31, meanwhile, the PLAN carrier completed roughly 320 takeoffs and landings of both fighters and helicopters, according to the Japanese MoD account.

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