J-7 fighter's 1st Taiwan drill shows PLA combat preparedness, ‘old-fashioned’aircraft can play a role
Published: Jun 18, 2021 05:16 PM
Two J-7 fighter jets attached to an aviation brigade of the air force under the PLA Western Theater Command take off simultaneously for a live-fire flight training exercise on March 22, 2018.Photo:China Military

Two J-7 fighter jets attached to an aviation brigade of the air force under the PLA Western Theater Command take off simultaneously for a live-fire flight training exercise on March 22, 2018.Photo:China Military

The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) reportedly sent J-7 fighter jets, an older model aircraft in the PLA arsenal, to conduct regular exercises near the island of Taiwan on Thursday, with experts saying on Friday that the drill showed the PLA's high-level of combat preparedness and control over the region, as its less advanced aircraft can also play a role.

A total of seven PLA aircraft, namely a Y-8 electronic warfare aircraft, two J-16 fighter jets and four J-7 fighter jets, entered the island of Taiwan's self-proclaimed southwestern air defense identification zone on Thursday, the island's defense authorities said in a statement released on the same day.

This is the first time the "old-fashioned" J-7 fighter jet has been spotted participating in the PLA's routine exercise in the region since the island started to track and publish similar PLA activities in September 2020, Taipei-based newspaper the Liberty Times reported, noting that the J-7 made its maiden flight in 1966, was developed into many variants and ceased production in 2013.

Citing experts, Taipei-based news website said on Thursday that the J-7s could be practicing electronic warfare operations together with the Y-8 electronic warfare aircraft.

It also showed that even the PLA's older warplanes are not afraid of the island's newer ones, and all types of PLA aircraft are taking part in exercises around the island, they said.

J-7 fighter jets are indeed some of the older aircraft in the PLA fleet, but the ones featured in the latest exercise are likely of newer variations, and can serve as escorts to special mission aircraft and support more advanced fighter jets, Song Zhongping, a Chinese mainland military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Friday.

They can be equipped with advanced air-to-air missiles and mission pods to become competitive even today, and they could also be modified into unmanned versions, Song said.

When asked about if the J-7s in the Thursday exercise were unmanned versions, Taiwan's air force said they were indeed J-7s and not drones, according to Liberty Times reports.

The J-7s' exercise also came on the same day as a top US general claimed the PLA has some way to go to develop the capabilities needed to take over Taiwan militarily.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told US lawmakers during a Congressional hearing on Thursday that the Chinese mainland does not currently possess the actual capability to conduct military operations to seize through military means the entire island of Taiwan, so such a move has a low probability to happen in near term, Reuters reported on Friday.

Disagreeing with Milley, Song said that whether the Chinese mainland will resolve the Taiwan question in near term depends on if the authorities on the island step on the bottom lines drawn in the Anti-Secession Law. "If they do, the PLA will resolve the question at all cost, and it has always been enhancing combat preparedness against Taiwan and US forces."

Chinese and foreign military scholars, experts and observers know that the PLA is capable of taking over the island, even if the US and other foreign forces intervene, not to mention the enormous power gap between the PLA and the armed forces on the isolated island of Taiwan.

But as Milley said, the PLA indeed has huge potential for future development, as shown with the J-7, which, no matter how it is used, remains a less advanced aircraft, analysts said.

A report by China Central Television in March said that the PLA Air Force has started to gradually decommission its fleet of J-7 fighter jets and replace them with more advanced, next generation ones.

The same goes for other older weapons, equipment and technologies, and the PLA is also training its personnel for large-scale, joint operations, analysts said.

The PLA Air Force announced on Friday that yet another combat force, namely the Air Force's first ever air group dubbed the Military Development Vanguard Air Group, is now flying China's most advanced fighter jet, the J-20, following the J-20's commissioning with the Wang Hai Air Group announced in October 2019, CCTV reported.