This year’s series of annual PLAAF exercises within that portion of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in Tibet Military District (TMD) that faces the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control (LAC), which commenced in late March 20016 and are still continuing, have witnessed significant accretions, with the most notable among them being the introduction of a solitary KJ-500 turboprop-powered airborne early warning and control (AEW & C) platform, plus the deployment of LY-80 MR-SAMs in place of the HQ-12 ADK-12 KS-1D MR-SAMs.
It may be recalled that the PLAAF has since 2010 been deploying Su-27SK/Su-27UBK/J-11A heavy-MRCAs belonging to the Shizuishan-based 6th Air Division’s J-10As from the Mengzi-based 44th Air Division’s 131st Air Regiment (based in Luliang) out to the dual-use airports at Lhasa Gonggar (facing Sikkim and northern West Bengal) and Ngari (facing Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir) twice every year during summertime and wintertime for two-week-long deployment periods.
These used to be accompanied by corresponding deployments of the HQ-12 ADK-12 KS-1D MR-SAMs of the PLAAF’s Chengdu-based 11th Anti-Air Artillery Brigade (Unit 95607), which has three Regiments--21st, 22nd and 23rd--are equipped with the HQ-64/LY-60D E-SHORADS, and HQ-12 ADK-12 KS-1D MR-SAMs. The latter were deployed at fixed launch-sites located at Lhasa Gonggar and the dual-use Shigatse Airport.
Since late 2012, the 651st Independent Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade, based at Nyingchi, began taking over from the HQ-12 ADK-12 KS-1Ds of the 11th Anti-Air Artillery Brigade’s 22nd Regiment. The 651st comprises a Regiment of LY-80 70km-range MR-SAMs (containing 16 TELs each loaded with six MR-SAM vertical launch-cells), a Regiment of 18 tracked PGZ-04As (each armed with four FN-6 VSHORADS launchers missiles and four 25mm cannons), a Regiment of FM-90 SHORADS, and a composite battalion that has 108 FN-6 VSHORADS/MANPADS launchers, 24 Type 73 towed 37mm anti-aircraft guns and 18 towed twin 35mm PG-99 ‘Giant Bow’ anti-aircraft guns.
Also included are LIMAN ground-based jammers, JY-27A VHF-band anti-PGM volume-search radars as part of the LY-80 MR-SAM Regiment, YLC-18 S-band 3-D acquisition radars for the FM-90s (now replacing the older LSS-1/Type 120 L-band 2-D low-altitude acquisition radars), YLC-6 S-band 2-D low-level air-defence radars for the FN-6 VSHORADS/MANPADS launchers, Type 73 anti-aircraft guns and 18 PG-99 ‘Giant Bow’ anti-aircraft guns.
As for airspace surveillance radars, there is one JL-3D-90A L-band 3-D airspace surveillance radar operated by the PLAAF at the Ganba La radar station southwest of Lhasa, plus another one north of Shigatse Airport. These are joined by three Army-operated YLC-2V 3-D S-band acquisition radars located around Ngari Airport, Qamdo Bangda Airport, and at PLA SIGINT Stations north of Bum La.
The PLAAF’s Air-Defence Reporting Centre for monitoring TAR’s air-defence identification zone (ADIZ) is located at Ganba La.
In future, the PLAAF will also begin making use of dual-use airports immediately north of Arunachal Pradesh, these being Qamdo and Linzhi.
Going hand-in-hand with these developments are increasing efforts by both the PLAAF and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to undertake joint air campaigns that since 2011 have been rehearsed under the ‘Shaheen’ series of joint exercises. It may be recalled that the ‘Shaheen’ series of bi-annual exercises commenced in 2011 when, for the first time ever as part of EX Shaheen-I, a PLAAF contingent with four Su-27UBKs from the 8th Flight Academy (also known as ‘Blue Army Aggressors’) deployed to Rafiqui air base in Shorkot, Pakistan.
This exercise, lasting for over two weeks starting March 11, saw the PAF fielding its Mirage VEFs and F-7PGs executing various various air-to-air and air-to-ground combat scenarios. The PLAAF’s 8th Flight Academy operates Su-27UBKs and Su-30MKKs that simulate enemy air force tactics during dissimilar air combat training exercises. The PLAAF possesses three such ‘Blue Army Aggressor’ squadrons (the first of which was raised in June 1987), with the other two flying J-10A M-MRCAs and J-7E light interceptors. All three squadrons operate under the PLAAF’s Canzhou-based Flight Test and Training Base in Hebei province.
The second joint air exercise—EX Shaheen-II—was conducted between September 3 and 22, 2013 at Hotan air base in the Hetian Prefecture of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. For this, the PAF flew in its F-7PGs and Mirage-IIIEPs. This was for the first time in the PLAAF’s history that a foreign air force had conducted a joint exercise inside China’s airspace. Participating PLAAF assets included J-10As of the Hotan-based 109th Brigade, JH-7As of the Urumqi-based 37th Air Division Division’s 110th Brigade, J-8Fs from the Hotan-based 109th Brigade, and Su-27SKs and Su-27UBKs from the Korla-based 111th Brigade.
The third such bilateral air exercise—EX Shaheen-III—was held at the PAF’s Rafiqui air base in the northeastern province of Punjab between May 5 and 28, 2014. The PLAAF sent four J-10A/B M-MRCAs along with a detachment of air-defence controllers and ground-support crew, while the PAF deployed up to eight of its JF-17s and Mirage-VEFs. EX Shaheen-IV was conducted at the Yinchuan air base in the Southern Command (previously part of Langzhou MR) between September 12 and October 4, 2015. During these exercises, three different types of frontline combat aircraft from each of the two air forces were fielded—this being a first. In addition, the PLAAF for the very first time deployed one of its KJ-200 turboprop-powered AEW & C platforms, while for the PAF this was the first time that it went for air exercises outside China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (which falls under the Lanzhou Military Region).
The PLAAF’s combat aircraft assets taking part in the exercises included J-11A heavy-MRCAs and Su-27UBKs belonging to the Shizuishan-based 6th Air Division’s J-10As from the Mengzi-based 44th Air Division’s 131st Air Regiment (based in Luliang) and a detachment of JH-7A bombers from the Urumqi-based 37th Air Division Division’s 110th Brigade. The PAF sent two JF-17 Thunder light-MRCAs, two Mirage-IIIEP tactical interdictors and two F-7PG light interceptors, which were accompanied by an IL-78MKP aerial refuelling tanker.
EX Shaheen-VI began on April 9, 2016 and lasted till April 30. During this exercise, the PAF for the first time deployed its ZDK-03 Karakoram Eagle AEW & C platforms (from which the KJ-500 is derived) for airborne battle management missions.