Chinese military is said to be able to control airspace over Taiwan

Courtesy of Taiwan’s National Defense Ministry
A Chinese military J-16 jet of the type that entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone last October

BEIJING — The Chinese military has been establishing a key capability for securing control of the sea and air in the event of an armed invasion of Taiwan, acquiring abilities to simultaneously conduct aerial attacks on land, sea and air targets, according to multiple sources. The sources drew this conclusion by analyzing China’s military aircraft incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), which surged in 2021. China’s preparations for a Taiwan invasion operation will near completion once the capability for landing operations on Taiwan’s main island is acquired, the sources said.

In 2021, China’s military aircraft flew into Taiwan’s ADIZ on about 250 occasions, with a total of 960 aircraft, according to Taiwan’s National Defense Ministry. In particular, from Sept. 16 to the end of December, about 500 aircraft flew in, more than three times the approximately 150 that were seen in the same period the year before.

Such Chinese aircraft activities had been perceived as demonstrations to warn against developments such as stronger ties between the United States and Taiwan. However, a source close to the Chinese military says they are training operations to acquire capability for actual warfare.

When a total of 52 Chinese aircraft, the largest number ever, entered Taiwan’s ADIZ in an operation in October, it included early warning aircraft, patrol aircraft, fighter jets and strategic bombers, according to the source. “The operation was conducted with a combination [of aircraft] capable of simultaneously attacking all areas — land, sea and air,” the source said. Helicopters were also involved, which suggests China’s intention to also send in special forces on the ground.

In addition, strategic bombers flew between the islands of Okinawa and Miyakojima in Okinawa Prefecture several times, heading southward to the Pacific Ocean. According to another source, the bombers repeatedly flew to a point from which they could attack U.S. bases in Guam with cruise missiles.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

In November last year, strategic bombers, along with aerial refueling aircraft and other aircraft, flew into Taiwan’s ADIZ, passed through the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan and the Philippines, and then continued around to the east of Taiwan.

Sources say the operational radius of fighter jests escorting strategic bombers is expanded by the presence of aerial refueling aircraft. This will diversify China’s potential attack patterns on the U.S. carrier strike groups that would approach in case of a Taiwan contingency, or on the bases in Guam.

Taiwan’s defense ministry anticipates a Chinese military invasion would come in four stages: 1) Missile attacks launched from within China, 2) Cyber-attacks targeting Taiwan’s military facilities, 3) Seizing control of the air and sea to prevent intervention by U.S. and other forces, 4) Taking control of Taiwan’s main island through landing operations.

Having made progress in the deployment of ballistic and cruise missiles and establishment of cyber-attack capabilities, the Chinese military appears to be stepping up aircraft drills with an eye on the third stage of the process.