The Chinese Navy’s annual sortie through the disputed waters between the Japanese islands Okinawa and Miyakojima held a surprise for foreign observers. Japanese forces tailing the 11-strong Chinese fleet spotted a previously unknown Chinese weapon system: a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, apparently launched from the deck of a Chinese warship.
The Japan Security Watch blog first highlighted the drone report originally published by the Japanese Defence Ministry. Although China is known to be developing several small and large UAVs for military use, none have been seen in an operational environment.
The so-called “Miyako Run,” first conducted last April, serves several purposes for the People’s Liberation Army Navy. It’s a statement by Beijing that it hasn’t given up its claim to several small islands in the East China Sea that Japan also claims. It’s also an opportunity for the PLAN to test its navigation, logistics and combat skills — and now, new technology.
After passing through the Miyako Strait on June 8 and 9, the Chinese fleet reportedly conducted target practice and refueling training in the Pacific Ocean, roughly 1,000 miles south of Okinawa. A Japanese patrol plane, presumably a P-3 Orion, photographed the UAV overflying a Type 053HG frigate as the fleet was sailing back home after two weeks in the Pacific.