Late last month, Chinese H-6K bombers staged one of their longer missions in recent memory. Flying through the Miyako Straits northeast of Taiwan, the bombers proceeded into the central Pacific, to a point 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the Ryukyu island chain (stretching from the Japanese Home Islands past Okinawa towards Taiwan). As important, they reached a point less than 1,000 miles from Guam.
These actions reflect an ongoing effort on the part of both the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and the PLA Navy’s Naval Aviation force to expand their operational envelope. Chinese fighters and bombers over the past two decades have steadily moved from a force primarily focused on homeland defense to one more capable of projecting aerial power. This is consistent with the strategic mission that the PLAAF finally was assigned in 2004, when it promulgated the strategic concept of “unified air and space operations, preparing for both offensive and defensive operations.”
Dean Cheng is the Senior Research Fellow for Chinese political and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation. He has also worked at SAIC and the Center for Naval Analyses. He does not like piña coladas or getting caught in the rain.
This piece originally appeared in War on the Rocks and can be viewed in full at http://warontherocks.com/