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Reports emerged on 4th December that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has been conducting long-range Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) collection flights over the East and South China Seas.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) maintains territorial and maritime disputes with several regional actors in both stretches of water. Reports are sketchy as regards the platforms used for these recent missions, although speculation in the media has stated that they could have involved PLAAF Tupolev Tu-154MD ELINT gathering aircraft. Moreover, the PLAAF has not commented on when the missions were performed, how many missions were performed or their purpose, although some speculation has said that these may have been training flights.

Alternatively, it is possible that these flights were conducted to gather standard ELINT ‘pattern of life’ collection; to gather a detailed picture of the standard electromagnetic environment in the above mentioned areas at any given time. The collection of such ELINT greatly eases the detection of ‘out of the ordinary’ electronic signals which may indicate new military activity by the PRC’s regional rivals such as radars (ground-based or naval surveillance radars) which may be present in the region, or new communications systems being used therein. The PLAAF is believed to have seven Tu-154MDs in service.

Thomas Withington, Birmingham.

The PLAAF has performed a number of recent ELINT collection flights with its Tu-154MD aircraft. (PLAAF)

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