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China Is Flaunting Its Only Carrier Strike Group

May 4, 2018

Via China Military Online.

China’s powerful navy isn’t trying to hide its capabilities anymore. In less than a handful of years it revived a derelict aircraft carrier and then expanded its inventory beyond any reasonable scale. No other Asian state can match the PLAN in absolute size and firepower.

One outcome of this naval resurgence is intentional overexposure for the PLAN’s different fleets. It’s been established that various small and large exercises are scheduled each month in the seas adjacent to the Chinese coast. But as April entered its final weeks the PLA’s news website published numerous photos of a carrier strike group to deliberately advertise a new doctrine: If Beijing so wishes, it will bring the fight to the enemy.

After taking part in a naval parade off Hainan on April 12, an occasion where President Xi Jinping delivered a speech emphasizing the PLA’s combat readiness, the Liaoning (Hull 16) deployed not far from the South China Sea. According to reports from Chinese state media on April 22 the Liaoning, fully loaded with J-15 multirole fighters, and its escorts held “confrontation exercises in the West Pacific.” But this was revised to “combat training exercises in the Western Pacific, South China Sea and East China Sea in the past days in a row” on April 24.

Via China Military Online.

It was later revealed the Liaoning and at least four Type 052C destroyer escorts, including an unspecified number of corvettes, sailed through the Bashi Channel. This means the strike group crossed the waters between Luzon and Taiwan and, if the reports are to be believed, held war games near the Philippines on its way to the Miyako Strait. The Liaoning’s activities spanned an entire week, from April 20 until 27. The conclusion of the strike group’s efforts was reported as:

China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier formation Thursday returned to a military port in Qingdao, east China’s Shandong Province, after more than 10 days of live-fire exercises.

The formation took part in a navy review in the South China Sea on April 12. After that, the formation sailed through the Bashi Channel into the West Pacific, and then voyaged through the Miyako Strait to reach the East China Sea. It conducted high-sea training in these waters.

The live combat drills included shipborne fighter planes taking off and landing in complex conditions, and confrontations in water and airspace, aiming to enhance the formation’s combat capability.

The drills concluded successfully, with the formation’s combat capability tested and improved.

There are three important takeaways from the Liaoning’s busy schedule and its promotion in state media. First, what was once thought of as a “practice carrier” appears to have graduated, becoming a capital ship with its own strike group. If the Liaoning sails with a quartet of destroyers, corvettes, and even diesel-electric submarines, then its most practical use is for attacking another country.

It’s still possible, however, the Liaoning is demoted to an experimental vessel again once China’s locally made carriers are online.

Via China Military Online.

Second, the PLAN are laying down fresh war plans for Taiwan. Judging by the tempo of various exercises, from mock bombers runs to beach assaults, Beijing’s idea for D-Day is encircling the rogue province and then attacking it from every direction. The Liaoning’s role to play should involve establishing air superiority over Taiwan’s western seaboard while the rest of the strike group unleash cruise missiles on the island’s remaining defenses.

Third, the scale and duration of the Liaoning’s recent deployment is undeniable proof the PLAN’s game plan is to send its fleets far beyond the first island chain. This means encircling all the large islands that may host enemy forces and being able to blockade these.

The PLAN is now readying its second STOBAR aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, for its owns sea trials, a process that ends with its commissioning in a few years. The Type 001A’s entry to service could happen just as the first PLAN “supercarrier” resembling the US Navy’s Nimitz-class is launched. It’s no secret that nuclear-powered carriers are part of the PLAN’s goals for the 2020s and beyond. The propaganda outlet Global Times did report in March:

China’s second aircraft carrier or the country’s first domestically built carrier, known as the Type 001A, might undergo its first sea trials on April 23, China’s Navy Day, media reported.

Online pictures show that scaffolds on the carrier have been removed, and a phased-array radar has been installed, Science and Technology Daily reported on Monday.

It quoted sources as saying that the aircraft carrier may conduct its first sea trials on April 23, China’s Navy Day.

Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times that the second aircraft carrier improves on China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

The second one won’t be just for scientific research and training, but will be China’s first combat aircraft carrier, Li said.

He added it will also provide knowledge for future projectile and nuclear powered carriers. [Emphasis by 21AAR.]

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