An analysis of satellite photographs by Nikkei Asia with experts suggests that Beijing is preparing for a possible battle with Taiwan.

As the Japanese news agency reported on May 20, the sighting in China’s Xinjiang desert showed a mock-up reconnaissance jet operated only by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF).

The images feature an airplane-shaped structure with twin engines and a disk-shaped radar, which is a distinguishing feature of airborne early warning and control system aircraft.

The mock aircraft is believed to be the E-767 model, which uses back-mounted radar to detect distant aircraft and missiles invisible to ground-based radar. It has a range of 9,000 kilometers (5,600 miles) and can cover a large area for an extended period. The airplane can fly at more than 800 km per hour (500 mph).

A former self-defense force official suspects the Chinese military is training to attack the Japanese force’s aircraft with missiles.

Yoji Koda, a former commander in chief of Japan’s Self Defense Fleet, said the satellite version spotted in China could be used to check the error of missile impact on Japan’s E-767.

The E-767 is tricky to take down while in the air due to its excellent surveillance capabilities. But it’s fragile when parked on the ground. The type E-767 was spotted sitting on a runway, implying that Japan’s ground bases could be targeted in the event of an attack.

Kiyofumi Iwata, a former chief of the Ground Self-Defense Force staff, said if the E-767 is disabled during a Taiwan conflict, Japan’s ability to oversee the Nansei Islands would be impaired.

Iwata believes China deliberately showcases the aircraft facsimile to U.S. and Japan. As a result, China might portray that it is a threat if something were to happen.

This is the first time an item that resembles a Japanese military aircraft has been discovered in the Xinjiang area.

Thomas Shugart, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), said China has declared that it would conduct a “system destruction warfare.” It would focus on eliminating the information nodes that supply the enemy’s military with the data that it needs to fight effectively.

Shugart projected that China could target Japan’s E-767 at the beginning of a conflict by launching preemptive missile strikes on JSDF bases. According to the Chinese military’s perspective, this would grant it air and information superiority.

Japanese and U.S. soldiers are working to increase coordination in Japan, including data exchange. Because airborne early warning and control system aircraft are crucial in modern combat, they are tempting for Japanese acquisition.

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