The aircraft carrier Liaoning of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) navy flew more than 100 sorties in six days in a series of drills near Japan and Taiwan. The drills, spanning a week from May 3 to 9, took place about 160 to 230 km southwest of Okidaito Island in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture and about 160 km south of Japan’s Ishigaki Island. Drills south of Ishigaki Island took place about 335 km east of Taiwan. In a press conference on 11 May, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said that the drills involved flights by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation J-15 fighter jets of the PLA navy plus helicopters conducting anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations.
The move could be part of the Chinese military’s efforts to boost the carrier’s operational capability and enhance its ability to carry out operations in more distant maritime and aerial areas, noting that the Japanese government “had to monitor the situation with concern” because it happened “near Japan’s southwestern islands and Taiwan.” The drills by the Liaoning aircraft carrier group are meant to deter “Taiwan independence” secessionist forces and external interference forces like the US and Japan. More than 100 aircraft sorties in six days is a decent number for drills, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert.
It could experiment with different types of tactics, honing coordination or teaching new pilots, so in real combat, one would expect the Liaoning to display an even higher sortie rate. Compared with US nuclear-powered super carriers that use catapults to launch aircraft, the Chinese carrier inevitably has disadvantages in terms of the aircraft sortie rate because it is smaller and uses a ski-jump rack to release aircraft. But modern warfare is never about fighting alone, as the Chinese carrier group has other powerful members like the Type 055 and Type 052D destroyers with outstanding air defense and anti-ship capabilities.
Liaoning is a Chinese Type 001 aircraft carrier. The first aircraft carrier commissioned into the People’s Liberation Army Navy Surface Force, she was originally classified as a training ship, intended to allow the Navy to experiment, train and gain familiarity with aircraft carrier operations. The ship was rebuilt and commissioned into the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) as Liaoning on 25 September 2012. Its Chinese ship class designation is Type 001. Following upgrades and additional training in late 2018, Chinese state media announced that the ship would shift to a combat role in 2019.