KEY POINTS

  • The island nation deployed missile systems to monitor the planes
  • The sortie also included a Y-20U aerial tanker, for the first time 
  • The tanker can extend the range of China's fighters and bombers

Stoking further tensions in the Taiwan Strait days after a surprise visit by U.S. lawmakers to Taiwan, a record 27 Chinese warplanes breached Taiwan's air defense zone Sunday. In response to the incursions, the island nation had to scramble its combat aircraft to warn the PLA planes and deploy missile systems to monitor them.

Sunday's incident was the latest in a long series of incursions carried out by China to intimidate the democratically-ruled Taiwan, reported Taiwan News. The incursions also saw China's new aerial refueling tanker making its maiden appearance on the island. 

The sortie included eight Shenyang J-16 fighters, six Chengdu J-10 fighters, four Shenyang J-11 fighters, five Xi'an H-6 bombers, one Shaanxi Y-9 electronic warfare aircraft, two KJ-500 airborne early warning, and control aircraft (KJ-500 AEW&C), and one Xi'an Y-20U aerial tanker. 

The warplanes flew into Taiwan’s ADIZ near the southern part of the island and out into the Pacific Ocean before returning to China.

Taiwan's Ministry of Defense said it immediately responded by scrambling combat patrol aircraft, issuing radio warnings, and deploying air defense missile systems.

According to the ministry, the presence of Y-20U aerial tanker is significant as this is the first time a tanker is being deployed on a refueling mission in Taiwan's ADIZ. 

The new version of a Y-20 military transport aircraft, the Y-20U is said to have three refueling points and can carry 60 tons of fuel. It reportedly uses the hose and drogue method to refuel warplanes.

A report by Defense News said China has begun serial production of a tanker aircraft after satellite images showed four Y-20U in an airfield at Xi’an-Yanliang. The tanker assumes significance as aerial refueling was considered a weak point of the People's Liberation Army Air Force. It is expected that the tanker could vastly extend the range of China's fighters, bombers, and transport planes.

This comes as Beijing conducted "naval and air force combat readiness patrol" near the Taiwan Strait in response to the one-day visit by a group of American lawmakers to Taiwan.

House Democrats Mark Takano of California, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Colin Allred of Texas, and Sara Jacobs of California, along with Mace, a South Carolina Republican, are part of the visiting delegation. The group arrived in Taiwan on Thursday for a surprise visit. 

However, China did not take well to the visit and sent eight military aircraft into the country’s air defense identification zone. "The army will continue to be on high alert and take all necessary measures to counter, at any time, any interference by external forces and any conspiracy by separatists aiming at the so-called ‘Taiwan independence," a spokesperson for the Eastern Theatre Command said in a statement. 

Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion by China, which sees the self-ruled democratic island as part of its territory to be brought into its fold, by force if necessary Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion by China, which sees the self-ruled democratic island as part of its territory to be brought into its fold, by force if necessary Photo: Taiwan's Defence Ministry / Handout