US Stratotanker spotted flying south of Taiwan, near Dongsha Islands

KC-135 Stratotanker flies through Bashi Channel after cruising over South China Sea

Route of PEARL46 south of Taiwan. (Twitter, Golf9 image)

Route of PEARL46 south of Taiwan. (Twitter, Golf9 image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A U.S. military aerial refueling aircraft was spotted flying just south of Taiwan and near Dongsha Islands in the northern part of the South China Sea on Friday morning (June 12).

At 9:32 a.m. on Monday, Twitter user Golf9, who specializes in airband monitoring and radar and aircraft spotting, reported that a Boeing KC-135T Stratotanker was returning to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa after flying over the South China Sea. The jet's flight path showed it passing over the Bashi Channel, just south of Taiwan.

According to aircraft spotting site AirNav RadarBox, the plane, which has the call number PEARL46, took off from Kadena Air Base and reached a maximum altitude of 21,500 feet (6,553 meters) as it flew southwest near the east coast of Taiwan before turning west and flying over the Bashi Channel. Once the jet reached the vicinity of the Taiwan-controlled Dongsha Islands (Pratas Islands, 東沙群島), it turned and headed back east, following a similar pattern back to its base in Okinawa.

AirNav RadarBox map of plane's route. (AirNav RadarBox screenshot)

On Tuesday, a U.S. Navy Boeing C-40a Clipper also took off from Okinawa and flew directly over Taiwan. The plane's flight path took it over Keelung, New Taipei, Taipei, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, Taichung, Changhua, and Chiayi before exiting over Tainan and heading toward the open sea, according to AirNav RadarBox.

The jet was last spotted flying toward the Dongsha Islands. When Golf9 spotted the jet, he wrote that its route directly over Taiwan's west coast was a "rare flight course."

China is reportedly planning on deploying its two aircraft carriers in waters near Taiwan as part of its war games in August to rehearse for a future assault on the Dongsha Islands. China's state-run mouthpiece the Global Times on May 13 cited "experts" as saying the islands are strategically located and that the PLA has the capability to turn "any exercise into action if Taiwan secessionists insist on secession."

KC-135 taking off. (Wikimedia Commons)