PLA fighter jets hold cross-regional drills over 5,000km, show capabilities
Published: Mar 30, 2022 07:42 PM
A fighter jet attached to an aviation brigade under the PLA Air Force soars into the sky in a flight training exercise on March 8, 2022. ( by Cui Baoliang)

A fighter jet attached to an aviation brigade under the PLA Air Force soars into the sky in a flight training exercise on March 8, 2022. ( by Cui Baoliang)

The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force recently organized a cross-day-and-night, cross-regional maneuver exercise that saw multiple types of fighter jets flying across more than 5,000 kilometers in less than 20 hours, covering different terrains including plateaus and the sea, demonstrating not only the outstanding capabilities of the pilots and warplanes, but also the strong logistics support capabilities of all air bases involved, experts said on Wednesday.

Starting the drills, warplanes including the J-11B and the J-11BS attached to a brigade affiliated with the PLA Air Force took off from an air base in Central China and headed toward an unfamiliar region thousands of kilometers away, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Tuesday.

During the maneuver, the aircraft formation penetrated mock hostile aerial defenses, flew from the plains to the sea, and arrived at the designated air base overcoming fatigue from the extended flight, CCTV reported.

As night fell, the warplanes took off again and started another long-endurance flight and maneuver to another air base, the report said, noting that the whole cross-regional maneuver exercise lasted nearly 20 hours.

"We carried out this long-range flight not only throughout the day and night, but also took off and landed at many unfamiliar air bases. We flew across a variety of terrains with a total range of more than 5,000 kilometers, as the pilots had to deal with not only weather changes as they flew across different regions, but also unexpected mock combat challenges along the way," Guo Enyun, the commander of the brigade, said on CCTV.

A distance of 5,000 kilometers means that, if flying in a straight line, a plane can travel across the entire country, observers said.

"The exercises lasted from the day to early morning as we went through terrains like plains, plateaus and the sea. This honed both our will and skill under realistic combat scenarios," Zhong Haifeng, a pilot at the brigade, was quoted in the report as saying.

The flight paths used in the drills were designed to be close to real combat, as different terrains were taken into consideration in defense penetration and air assault sessions, Gao Ruipeng, a staff officer at the brigade, said in the report.

The mock combat sessions were organized without the red and blue teams knowing each other's plans, and this exercised the pilots' air-to-ground combat and attack capabilities, Gao said.

China is a large country with all kinds of terrains, and fast-flying warplanes may travel across all those places in a short time, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The exercise has demonstrated the outstanding skills of the pilots, who can operate from air bases in different terrains, altitudes, temperatures and weather conditions, which have a huge impact on how aircraft perform, Fu said. It also showed the strong logistics support capabilities of all air bases, which would need to carry out maintenance, refuel and munitions reloading for the aircraft that are not based there.

Aircraft from other regions of China can support the region where reinforcements are needed, analysts said.