MELBOURNE, Australia – China first showed retired 1950s fighter jets that have been converted to unmanned drones, with satellite photos of two of its east coast bases near Taiwan showing a large number of planes on site.
The People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command posted photos of two Shenyang J-6s to their Weibo social media account in a post about the ceremony marking the start of the training cycle for the second half of the year. 2021 for a training brigade.
The photos were taken at an unknown airfield, with the ceremony also including a banner for the occasion which has been digitally altered to remove the identity of the training brigade. The five-digit serial numbers on the J-6s that would identify the unit they belong to have also been digitally blurred.
This practice of scrambling serial numbers, which could be used to identify the unit to which the aircraft is assigned, is common in officially released images of the People’s Liberation Air Force (PLAAF) aircraft. , suggesting that the J-6 are still in active service. .
The two planes were not otherwise painted, although both carried three anchor points for the external stores on each wing.
The J-6 is a Chinese copy of the Soviet Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19 interceptor, the manned version of which was officially withdrawn from PLAAF service in 2010. At that time, the type was considered obsolete by all measures, with the basic J-. 6 not even equipped with radar.
Since then, many J-6s have been seen on satellite images of two air bases in the Chinese coastal provinces opposite Taiwan. Cells at these bases, Liancheng in Fujian Province and Yangtang-li, also known as Xingning in neighboring Guangdong Province, are parked in orderly rows at the air bases.
Reports emerged from 2013 that China had converted the type to an unmanned aircraft, to be used either as a decoy to overwhelm enemy air defenses in numbers, or as a rudimentary unmanned fighter jet.
A satellite photo of Liancheng, taken on September 15 and provided to Defense News by Planet Labs, showed 50 J-6s on the group, nine of which were photographed next to the base’s 7,830-foot runway.
Updated images for Xingning are not available, but satellite images taken in April 2020 showed J-6 at the base, with older satellite images of the base posted to Google Earth showing planes taxiing in March. 2013, October 2014, and as recently in December 2018.
They have also been seen at different parts of the bases in satellite photos taken over the years, further suggesting that these planes are active and have not been put on the back burner.
Liancheng and Xingning are some 275 miles from Taiwan, which puts the autonomous island that China considers a rogue province within easy reach of the J-6. China has yet to officially recognize the existence of the conversion of the J-6 to an unmanned aircraft.