China Stages Mock Strikes On Taiwan In Day 2 Of “Punishment” Exercise

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theater Command carried out simulated missile strikes against Taiwan on Friday. It also sent “multiple batches of fighters equipped with live ammunition” and bombers toward “strike positions” near a city on the island nation’s southeastern coast, official Chinese state media reported

“Under the cover of the fighter formations, several bombers left the island chain and established multiple strike positions off the coast of Taitung, cooperating with naval ship formations and mobile shore missiles,” the official Chinese CCTV news reported. “Fire units, etc., conduct simulated strikes on important targets.”

The planned two-day “punishment” exercise called Joint Sword-2024A (JS-24A) began on Thursday and saw China’s military surround the breakaway province. It came in response to the inauguration on Monday of newly elected, independence-minded President Lai Ching Te. You can read more about JS-24A in our initial reporting here.

China’s Defense Ministry (MoD) released new video on Friday showing its aircraft, ships and ground-based forces in action during the exercise. The major difference in imagery MoD provided Friday was video of Chinese H-6 bombers. It also contained imagery of weapons also released a day earlier, including J-16 Flanker fighters, a DF-15 short-range ballistic missile, and PHL-16 long-range rocket artillery systems.

Friday’s video showed the H-6s had cruise missiles under their wings while the J-16s were carrying air-to-air missiles.

Taiwan’s military reported that a total of 62 PLA aircraft and a mix of 27 People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels were operating around the main island as of 9:40 p.m. Friday local time, according to the English-language TaiwanPlus news outlet. The War Zone could not independently verify that figure and the MND has not released its tally.

That represents a plus-up from Thursday, when at least 49 Chinese aircraft, including Su-30 and J-16s, and KJ-500 airborne early warning and control planes as well as warships and mainland forces took part in the exercise launch. Taiwanese officials said that 19 PLA Navy ships and at least another seven China Coast Guard vessels were still surrounding the island as of 6 a.m. local time Thursday, but did not identify their types.

As we noted in our initial story, emerging imagery on Thursday showed “PLAN Type 052D destroyers and Type 054A frigates, as well as at least one Type 022 catamaran missile boat participating in Joint Sword-2024A. Interestingly, the Type 022 was observed operating together with Coast Guard ships.”

A People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Type 022 Houbei class fast attack missile catamaran. (PLAN)

The Chinese MoD lambasted Taiwanese President Lai for pushing Taiwan into what it called “a dangerous situation of war.”

“Those who play with fire will burn themselves,” Chinese MoD spokesperson Wu Qian told reporters. “Whenever ‘Taiwan independence’ (forces) provoke us, we will push our countermeasures forward until the complete reunification of the motherland is achieved.”

The Taiwanese (Republic of China, or ROC) Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Friday remained resolute in the face of the Chinese aggression.

MND also released video on Friday showing what it says was part of their response to JS-24A. It included ROC Air Force (ROCAF) F-16s monitoring PLAN warships taking part in the exercise. Interestingly, the wingtip AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile seen on one fighter appears to be inert.

The War Zone could not independently verify when those aircraft were launched. It could have been stock footage, we just don’t know for sure.

In addition, Taiwan released images of its F-16s with live missiles.

ROCAF also released video of what is claimed to be the first footage taken from its Vipers’ Sniper pods. It showed the fighter monitoring an H-6 bomber and J-16 fighter.

Additional video emerged on social media Thursday purporting to show several ROC Navy vessels making an “emergency departure” in reaction to JS-24A. The War Zone could not independently verify when that took place.

Taiwan also announced on Thursday that it was deploying Hsiung Feng III supersonic anti-ship missile systems as well as unspecified ground-based antiaircraft systems to counter any potential Chinese threat. 

U.S. and Taiwanese authorities have warned in recent years that the PLA could feel confident enough to launch an intervention against the island by 2027, if not earlier. Last month, the U.S. and Taiwan navies “conducted joint drills in the Pacific in April that officially, did not take place,” Reuters reported, citing “four people briefed on the matter.” The drills occurred in the western Pacific.

A Defense Department (DoD) official gave The War Zone the following statement about the Pentagon’s position on the exercise:

  • We have noted with concern reports of the People’s Liberation Army joint military drills in the Taiwan Strait and around Taiwan.  We are monitoring very closely.
  • We strongly urge Beijing to act with restraint and reiterate that the PRC should not use Taiwan’s political transition – part of a normal, routine democratic process – as a pretext or excuse for provocative or coercive measures. 
  • The PRC’s actions are reckless, risk escalation, and erode longstanding norms that have maintained regional peace and stability for decades. 
  • We are confident in our current force posture and operations in the region to ensure peace and stability and to meet our national security commitments.
  • As you know, we don’t discuss future operations.

The U.S. has long maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity” about the potential defense of Taiwan, neither confirming nor denying it would step in militarily to help Taipei fend off a Chinese attack. However, President Joe Biden has muddied those waters, publicly avowing that the U.S would intervene to support Taiwan. His officials have been left scrambling to explain that strategic ambiguity remains on the table. You can see Biden talk about U.S. troops defending Taiwan in this video below.

It is unclear what, if any actions, the Pentagon is taking in response to JS-24A. A number of U.S. assets have recently arrived in the Pacific, which military officials have said were routine and not connected to the ongoing exercise.

The Air Force announced that B-1 Lancers assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, arrived at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam on Thursday. The Bones were sent to Guam, about 1,700 miles southeast of Taiwan, “in support of a routine Bomber Task Force deployment,” the Air Force said in its media release.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, is currently in the Philippine Sea. In addition, the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group “entered the South China Sea January 23 to conduct routine operations,” the Navy said in a release.

Sailors stand by to receive pallets on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), during a vertical replenishment-at-sea with Military Sealift Command dry cargo ship, USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE 10), in the Philippine Sea, May 23. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kazia Ream)

While this latest Chinese drill has so far gone off without any kinetic interaction, the Xi government continues to back its desire to take back Taiwan with displays of military might. Whether China would actually decide to attack is unknown. It should be noted though that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine was launched after a large-scale military exercise, and similar questions were raised at the time. As we have noted repeatedly over the years, for Taiwan and prior to the invasion of Ukraine, it will all be an exercise, one of a seemingly endless number of increasingly complex drills, until it isn’t.

Reporters Joseph Trevithick and Thomas Newdick contributed to this report.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.