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Chinese reconnaissance plane flies near Senkakus

A civil TU-154 would have been converted to surveillance aircraft
A Chinese reconnaissance aircraft flew near the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea on Saturday, prompting Japan's Air Self-Defense Force to scramble fighter jets, the Joint Staff of Japan's Defense Ministry said.

The TU-154 surveillance plane flew about 150 kilometers north of the uninhabited islets but did not intrude into Japanese airspace, the ministry said. It is the first time for the Defense Ministry to confirm a TU-154 flight.

In a related development, four China Coast Guard ships sailed in Japanese territorial waters near the Senkakus earlier in the day, according to the Japan Coast Guard.

The intrusion was the first since Nov. 7 and the 70th since Tokyo purchased three of the islet group's five main islands from a Japanese private owner in September last year.

The four vessels entered the waters around 9:20 a.m. and stayed there for about two hours, the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, said.

The Senkakus are claimed by China and Taiwan, which call them Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively.

Note: "A number of Tu-154M/Ds (Type I/II) have been converted into ELINT aircraft, even through they were initially disguised under the cover of a civilian China United Airline registration. While Type I was believed to carry a BM/KZ800 ELINT system, Type II features a canoe shaped fairing under the fuselage which has been speculated to house an experimental synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to provide high-resolution ground mapping images, a capability similar to American E-8 J-STARS. Besides the SAR radar, the aircraft still retains some of the original EW and ELINT equipment, as indicated by the semi-spherical fairings and other small antennas under the rear fuselage. So far there are at least 4 of these modified Tu-154M/Ds (B-4015, B-4024, B-4029 & B-4138). Tu-154M/D (Type I) first entered the service with PLAAF in 1995. (Chinese Militar)"
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