China has recently deployed both of its active aircraft carriers on combat-oriented drills in the South China Sea, an indication that Beijing is growing more confident about its carrier fleet’s capabilities, said analysts.
The second aircraft carrier of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, the Shandong, was sent on a multi-disciplinary exercise aimed at improving combat readiness, reported the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece the People’s Daily.
The crew will take part in a number of drills including arrested landings of fighter jets, damage control and maritime search and rescue, the report said.
It did not specify the location nor the timing of the exercise and only said the carrier embarked on the mission in early winter.
The People’s Daily sister publication, the Global Times, said the carrier is now sailing the South China Sea.
Meanwhile, the PLA Navy’s first carrier, the Liaoning, and its escorting ships are on a routine exercise in the Pacific Ocean that may see them perform drills in the South China Sea and near Taiwan.
Japan’s Ministry of Defense Joint Staff said in a press release at the weekend that the Japanese navy despatched airplanes and ships, including the Izumo helicopter destroyer, to follow and monitor the movement of the Liaoning strike group when it sailed through waters between Okinawa and Miyako islands.
The strike group comprises the Liaoning, the Type 055 large destroyer Nanchang, the Type 054A frigate Rizhao and the Type 901 comprehensive supply ship Hulunhu.
They were first spotted on Dec.15 and now are sailing southwards to the Philippine Sea after conducting ship-based aircraft take-off and landing exercises.
The Liaoning transited the Miyako Strait twice in April while it carried out drills near Taiwan and the South China Sea, and observers say the pattern may repeat this time.
In a separate development, the guided-missile frigate Wuzhou under the PLA Southern Theater Command conducted a maritime training operation earlier this month in the South China Sea, marking a very busy period for the PLA Navy in the region.
“Having two carriers at sea at almost the same time, plus supporting vessels, shows that the PLA Navy is becoming increasingly confident about using these assets to project power in support of China’s strategic interests,” said Ian Storey, senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.