WASHINGTON – A Chinese airplane believed to be for electronic warfare was spotted twice in August over the East China Sea, south of Kyushu and west of the Nansei Islands, sources said Monday.
There has never been confirmation that a Chinese electronic intelligence-gathering plane exists, but the U.S. Defense Department said in its annual report on Chinese military power in July that China “is improving capabilities of its special-mission aircraft, with a focus on electronic warfare.”
The sources said details about the aircraft, including the type, were not known, but external features and flight patterns indicated it was probably being used to intercept radio and other electronic transmissions from warships, as well as radar and other military equipment.
The aircraft was flying in Japan’s designated air-defense zone and was probably conducting a test of some kind, the sources said.
Tokyo has neither publicly acknowledged a sighting nor revealed if it scrambled fighters to intercept the plane.
Five Chinese naval ships, including a missile destroyer, were spotted on Sept. 9 near the Chunxiao gas field in the East China Sea, where Japan and China have a dispute over their exclusive economic zones.
Observers reckon the sea and air incidents may be related.
In its July report, the Pentagon alleged China is carrying out a military buildup and modernization beyond its interest in seizing Taiwan.
The report says this puts the regional military balance “at risk” and China could become a long-term “credible” threat to Japan and other countries in the area.