Three US Air Force reconnaissance aircraft — one P-8A Poseidon, one RC-135 and one C-17A Globemaster III — were yesterday observed heading toward the South China Sea and the Bashi Channel, after five US military planes had been sighted in the area a day earlier.
According to the Beijing-based South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI), the P-8A Poseidon was performing anti-submarine patrols between the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島) and the Bashi Channel.
The US Air Force had deployed two P-8A Poseidons, one P-3C Orion, one RC-135 and one KC-135 Stratotanker refueling craft over the Bashi Channel area on Wednesday, according to SCSPI data.
Photo: Screengrab from China’s South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative’s Twitter account
The high frequency of the US deployment in the region is to prevent China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) from sneaking ballistic missile submarines into the Philippine Sea, from where submarines carrying intercontinental ballistic missiles would be in range to potentially launch attacks on the US mainland, Tamkang University Center for Advanced Technology executive director Peter Su (蘇紫雲) said on Wednesday.
A source in the Taiwanese military, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the US Air Force might have received intelligence about a potential deployment of PLAN submarines.
The number of passes and the variety of aircraft dispatched to the region could be an indication that the US is conducting trials to gauge the reliability of a possible joint-operation mission in the South China Sea, the source said.
Separately, the Ministry of National Defense on Monday announced that it is temporarily redeploying marines to Pratas Islands in response to the PLA’s planned exercises in August.
A Kyodo News report said that the PLA is planning to hold a beach-landing exercise in the South China Sea, with the scenario of landing on the Pratas Islands.
The ministry’s Office of the Deputy Chief of the Central Staff for Operation and Planning Joint Operations Division Major General Lin Wen-huang (林文皇) has said that the Coast Guard Administration (CGA), trained by the marines, were equal to the marines in combat capability and could defend the islands should they come under attack.
The redeployment is temporary, with the main objective of maintaining the CGA’s combat readiness and strengthening its logistics defenses, the ministry said.
Such exercises are conducted annually and are nothing out of the ordinary, it added.
Additional reporting by CNA
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