The People's Liberation Army Air Force recently sent its electronic intelligence aircraft to conduct long-range training over the Yellow and East China seas, according to Senior Colonel Shen Jinke, spokesman for the PLA Air Force, on Monday.
Shen said at an unidentified air base in northern China that during the exercise the electronic intelligence aircraft used a route that they had not flown before and reached areas they had never been to, according to a news release published by the Air Force on its Sina Weibo account.
In addition to the reconnaissance planes, the Air Force also dispatched fighter jets, early-warning aircraft and air-defense missile units to take part in the operation, he was quoted by the release as saying. No other details were given.
Though the Air Force did not elaborate on the type of electronic intelligence aircraft, it published a picture with the release that showed a Tupolev Tu-154MD signal intelligence jet taking off.
Shen said several Air Force aviation units carried out long-distance exercises deep into open seas over the past month, exploring new routes and airspace that had never been used by Chinese Air Force aircraft. He said such moves improved the Air Force's combat and command capabilities.
According to the World Air Forces 2017 report compiled by the British magazine Flight International, China has seven Tu-154MDs in active service. Western military observers said the aircraft uses large-size synthetic aperture radar to detect and collect signal intelligence.
Colonel Ren Guoqiang, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said in July that the PLA would continue to hold long-range exercises in accordance with international situations and its own tasks.
Ren said other nations should not "make a fuss about or over-interpret" the Chinese military's oceangoing exercises and should "get used to" them.
The PLA Air Force started to perform long-range, ocean-bound drills in March 2015 and organized at least seven such operations in 2015 and 2016.