16th September 2023 – (Beijing) The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has concluded a five-day blitz exercise around Taiwan, employing a new tactic characterised by its large scale, joint operations, and short duration, according to analysts. The PLA Navy, led by the aircraft carrier Shandong, operated in the West Pacific southeast of Taiwan before traversing the Bashi Channel south of the island and returning to the South China Sea. Japan’s Ministry of Defense Joint Staff confirmed the movements of the carrier group.
During the exercise, the Shandong hosted approximately 40 fighter jet sorties and 20 helicopter sorties, as reported by Japan’s Ministry of Defense Joint Staff.
The return of the carrier group followed Taiwan’s defence authority’s announcement on Monday of the Shandong aircraft carrier group entering the West Pacific via the Bashi Channel. The carrier group included the Shandong aircraft carrier, two Type 054A frigates, two Type 052D destroyers, and a Type 901 replenishment ship, according to Japan’s Ministry of Defense Joint Staff’s press release on Wednesday.
In conjunction with the deployment and return of the Shandong carrier group, eight PLA Navy warships, including Type 052D, Type 052C, and Sovremenny-class destroyers, as well as Type 054A frigates, entered the West Pacific from the East China Sea via the Miyako Strait on Monday. Several of these warships returned via the same route on Friday.
Observers believe that these activities constitute a large-scale military exercise encircling Taiwan from multiple directions, spanning Monday to Friday. The peak occurred on Wednesday when Taiwan’s defence authority reported 68 PLA aircraft and 10 PLA vessels near the island. Notably, three YU-20 tanker aircraft, accompanied by numerous fighter jets, flew southeast of the island in the direction of the Shandong aircraft carrier’s operation area.
Analysts suggest that the Shandong carrier group from the South China Sea and the warship flotilla from the East China Sea, totalling approximately 14 vessels, encircled Taiwan. They either formed an unprecedentedly large carrier group, operated in separate flotillas with coordination, or engaged in confrontation combat training.
The YU-20 tanker aircraft likely aimed to extend the range, endurance, and munition capacity of warplanes operating on the east side of the island, including the J-15 carrier-borne fighter jets on the Shandong. This showcased the concept of joint operations across different services and branches.
Chinese military expert Song Zhongping stated that the exercise was likely comprehensive, covering air defence, anti-submarine, anti-ship, and land attack training. The purpose was to familiarise the Shandong aircraft carrier with far-sea manoeuvres. Song noted that these drills not only prepared for potential combat against secessionist forces advocating “Taiwan independence” but also against external military forces.
In contrast to previous far sea exercises lasting about a month, the Shandong only remained beyond the first island chain for five days this time. However, it deployed a larger number of accompanying and coordinating forces. This could signify a new PLA tactic, showcasing the ability to deploy powerful and intensive forces on a large scale and swiftly accomplish their objectives within a short timeframe, according to another Chinese military expert.