Naval and aviation forces of China and Russia are preparing for the Northern/Interaction-2023 joint exercise in the Sea of Japan, with experts saying on Tuesday that Chinese warplanes are expected to operate from a Russian airfield, enabling quick response to potential threats in the Sea of Japan.
A flotilla of the Russian Pacific Fleet has set out from Vladivostok to participate in the Northern/Interaction-2023 joint exercise between China and Russia, which is scheduled to be held this month in the Sea of Japan, Russia's Ministry of Defense said in a press release on Tuesday.
Russia sent the large anti-submarine ships Admiral Tribunts and Admiral Panteleev as well as the corvettes Gremyashy and Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov to participate in the exercise, according to the Russian press release.
The Russian movement came after the Type 052D destroyers Qiqihar and Guiyang, the Type 054A frigates Zaozhuang and Rizhao as well as the Type 903 comprehensive replenishment ship Taihu of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) set out from Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province on Saturday for the joint exercises, carrying four vessel-borne helicopters.
Also on Saturday, the first group of PLA Air Force units arrived in Vladivostok by Y-20 transport aircraft. Multiple types of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters including the Y-20 transport aircraft, the KJ-500 early warning aircraft, the J-16 fighter jet and the Z-20 helicopter will participate, the PLA Daily reported on Sunday.
According to a statement released by the Chinese Ministry of National Defense on Saturday, the drills, organized by the PLA Northern Theater Command, are themed "safeguarding strategic maritime routes" and are designed to further elevate the coordination capability of the two militaries and strengthen their capabilities of jointly safeguarding regional peace and stability, as well as responding to various security challenges.
Based on public information, the two participating countries' forces are all moving out to their positions, and the drills will start very soon, experts said.
China and Russia are both sending their main battle warships as well as aviation forces to the exercise, making it a large-scale bilateral joint naval exercise, Li Yaqiang, a Chinese naval expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
Since the exercise aims to safeguard strategic maritime routes, it will likely feature air defense, anti-submarine and anti-ship missions, Li said.
The Sea of Japan has become a hot region for military exercises recently, as the U.S., Japan and South Korea held a joint naval exercise on Sunday and practiced ballistic missile defense, Japan's Ministry of Defense Joint Staff said in a press release.
A key topic to watch from the Northern/Interaction-2023 is that Chinese warplanes could operate from a Russian airfield, since the Chinese aviation forces have arrived in Vladivostok, observers said.
In previous China-Russia strategic joint aerial patrols, Chinese and Russian strategic bombers landed and took off from each other's airfields, and this time it will be tactical aircraft's turn, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
It marks a high level of strategic mutual trust between the two countries, Fu said.
With the Sea of Japan being on Russia's doorstep, Chinese warplanes operating from Russian airfields would greatly reduce the reaction time in countering threats in the Sea of Japan, Fu said.
Before the Northern/Interaction-2023, Russia participated in the Western/Interaction-2021 exercise held in Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in August 2021, which marked the first time that China invited foreign forces to participate in its annual strategic exercises in its territory. China also regularly joins annual strategic exercises held in Russia.