China deployed Su-35 advanced fighter jets to patrol the South China Sea, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force said.
In a Weibo post on Wednesday, the PLA Air Force said the jets were to conduct joint combat cruise missions, Global Times reported. The message did not indicate how many aircraft were dispatched.
A video posted by Chinese state TV earlier on Thursday shows four of the aircraft flying in formation. The mission is expected to enhance the air force’s combat capability under long-distance or high-sea conditions, according to the report.
Beijing and several of its neighbors in the region – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam – have competing claims in the 3.5 million square kilometer South China Sea, which is an important maritime shipping route and may have vast oil and natural gas reserves. Chinese construction in the Sea has been a point of contention with its neighbors and the United States, and an international tribunal ruled in 2016 that China has no basis for its extensive claims.
Earlier this week, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published new photos of Chinese land reclamation projects, showing apparent military installations.
— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) February 7, 2018
China took delivery of 10 Sukhoi Su-35 multirole fighter jets from Russia in December. An additional 10 are set to be delivered later this year under a $2 billion 2015 deal for 24 of the aircraft, ground equipment and spare engines.
The Su-35 is a multirole 4th generation super-maneuverable thrust-vectoring fighter jet equipped with a phased array radar. The aircraft’s top speed is reportedly 2,500 kilometres and it has a combat radius of around 1,600 kilometres. It carries a 30mm gun and has 12 hardpoints.