Hindustan Times, Beijing
J-15 fighter aircraft from China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier conduct a drill in an area of South China Sea in January 2, 2017. (Reuters file)
China has dispatched fighter aircraft and troops to a Pakistani air base close to the Gujarat border to take part in the latest edition of a bilateral military exercise, Chinese military announced on Monday, saying the air force drill was aimed at improving “actual combat training” of the two forces.
“The Chinese air force’s troops set off on December 7 for the Pakistani Air Force’s air base in Bholari at Thatta District in Sindh, northeast of Pakistan’s Karachi to participate in the China-Pakistan Joint Air Force Exercise Shaheen (Eagle) – IX’”, a statement from the People’s Liberation Army said.
The latest edition of the drill will take place in the backdrop of the ongoing India-China border friction along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.
The brief Chinese statement on Shaheen-IX did not give details of the deployment of PLA Air Force (PLAAF) for the exercise with Pakistan but said it will conclude late December.
“The joint air force exercise, which will conclude in late December, is a project within the 2020 cooperation plan of the two militaries,” it said.
“It will promote the development of China-Pakistan mil-to-mil [military to military] relationships, deepen practical cooperation between the two air forces and improve the actual-combat training level of the two sides,” the statement added.
The last edition of the Shaheen drill, which was held in China’s Xinjiang in September 2019, was the largest with nearly 50 warplanes from the two countries taking part in it.
The Twitter handle @detresfa, satellite imagery expert, tweeted on Monday evening that …a “#China AirForce (PLAAF) Y20 Heavy lift plane was spotted descending into #Pakistan near Bholari Airbase, along with it was spotted another unknown aircraft (suspected PLAAF) following the same route Aircraft are suspected to be in support of a joint exercise”.
The PLAAF is said to have deployed fighter jets close to the LAC with India.
A state media report last week said a large number of Chinese fighter aircraft recently conducted a series of intensive exercises around a Western Theatre Command – which oversees China’s disputed border with India — Air Force base, which is located at an important strategic point in Northwest China.
“The drills honed and demonstrated the Chinese military’s capability to safeguard the country’s western air defence border,” the state media report added.
Pakistan air force’s Bholari airbase was inaugurated in December 2017.
Calling the Bholari project of “strategic significance,” then Pakistan air force chief, Sohail Aman had said: “Indeed, PAF Base Bholari is a project of strategic significance for capacity enhancement of Pakistan Air Force in operational domain both overland as well as at sea”.
Aman was quoted by Pakistani media as saying at the inauguration that the Bholari base would also augment and supplement the very important maritime operations carried out by Pak Navy besides playing a “key role in safeguarding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.”
In the last edition of the Shaheen exercise held in Xinjiang close to the LAC, dozens of fighter aircraft from the two countries had taken part in mock battles, the PLA Air Force statement had then said.
The state media had called the 2019 Shaheen edition as “unprecedented”.