In the first such incident, the Japanese Defense Ministry revealed on January 1 that its Air Force intercepted China’s WZ-7 Soaring Dragon drone over the East China Sea. While the intercept was considered a one-time incident, another WZ-7 flew again the next day over the same location.
China’s WZ-7 military drone, considered one of the most advanced in its inventory, flew over the waters between the islands of Okinawa and Miyakojima in southwestern Japan on January 1.
The Japan Air Self Defense Force scrambled its fighter jets (probably the F-15J) to intercept the drone even though it did not enter Japanese airspace.
Interestingly, this comes less than a month after the WZ-7 was spotted in the Tibetan region near the disputed LAC border with India. At the time, satellite photos posted by Planet Labs showed the drone at the Shigatse base two days after Indian and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops clashed in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang.
However, the Japanese Self-Defense Force may have been caught off guard, as it was the first time the drone had flown close to Japanese territory.
According to the ministry, the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) flew from the East China Sea, passing between the Japanese islands on its way to the Pacific Ocean. Then, he turned back on the same path as he headed west.
The flight path that the drone supposedly took is interesting. The WZ-7 passed through the Miyako Strait, a passage that separates the main island of Okinawa and the Miyako Islands.
The PLA Navy has recently chosen this route for its aircraft carriers and other vessels to enter the Western Pacific. This maneuver is often closely watched and followed by Tokyo.
By the way, the Japanese Ministry of Defense detected a second WZ-7 drone a day after the first intercept. The drone operated in the same region and followed an identical flight path from the East China Sea to the Philippine Sea, passing relatively close to Okinawa and other distant Japanese islands.
In this case, it was not specified how close the drone flew to Japanese territory. However, it most likely did not enter Tokyo airspace.
On January 1, the PLAN aircraft carrier Liaoning, which has been conducting military exercises for the past two weeks, also transited through the Miyako Strait.
The flattop was escorted by People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Type 055 destroyers Anshan and Wuxi, Type 052D destroyer Chengdu, Type 054A frigate Zaozhuang and Type 901 Hulunhu fast combat support ship as it crossed the sea. from the Philippines to the sea. East China Sea.
Therefore, it is very likely that the drone activity was related or connected to the carrier’s traffic. For perspective, having a drone fly over the region before, during, or after the carrier’s transit could allow the PLAN to gather crucial intelligence by monitoring the radars and communication systems of adversary forces.
The island of Okinawa is strategically located and is home to Japan’s high-end military assets. It is also home to Kadena Air Force Base, which recently welcomed US F-22 Raptor fighter jets as a replacement for the F-15 Eagles.
China’s towering dragon flies over the East China Sea
In particular, the recent Chinese activity comes days after Japan announced the deployment of a surface-to-air missile defense unit on the island of Yonaguni, which lies very close to Taiwan. Furthermore, Japan has also announced its willingness to acquire long-range weapons to protect itself against its regional enemies.
Japan updated its national defense strategy in December, announcing ambitions to gain counter-strike capabilities against “enemy territory” (referring to China and North Korea) and increase military spending to 2% of its GDP by 2027. China is also described in the text as an “unprecedented strategic challenge” for Japan’s security.
Tensions have been rising in the region for some time. The maximum interceptions of foreign aircraft carried out by the JASDF are attributed to China and Russia. However, the presence of a drone is significant and could become more regular in the foreseeable future.
With its distinctive WZ-7 Soaring Dragon joined-wing design, the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) drone may begin to appear more frequently in Chinese operations in the region, offering somewhat similar capabilities to the RQ-4 Global. Hawk that Japan received in March 2022.
The WZ-7 has a diamond wing and horizontal stabilizer configuration: the wings sweep backward while the tails sweep forward. Produced by Guizhou Aircraft Industry Corporation, the drone debuted at the 2021 Zhuhai Airshow and will be on display at the 2022 Airshow.
The drone is likely to possess artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled networking and sensor fusion, highly encrypted jamming-resistant data links for sharing battlefield information with combat forces, and ISR links with Chinese satellites. It is believed to have an operational range of 7,000 kilometers and a range of 10 hours.
As tensions continue to grow in the region with Chinese intimidation and aggression against Taiwan and its general expansion into the Indo-Pacific, the drone may become a regular visitor to the area.