China's aircraft carrier Liaoning breaks through first island chain

China Military
Zhang Tao

BEIJING, Dec. 27 (ChinaMil) -- The Japanese Defense Ministry released news on the evening of December 25 that they observed the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and its carrier strike group sailing toward the West Pacific through the Miyako Strait between Okinawa-hont and Miyako-jima.

More than that, they also witnessed ship-borne early warning helicopters taking off "about 10km away from the airspace over Miyako-jima", and fighter jets of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) scrambled in response.

The maiden voyage of Chinese carrier strike group into the blue water drew close attention in the whole world. Japan's Asahi Shimbun reported that China's purpose of this voyage was to "break through the first island chain comprised of Japan, Taiwan and other islands".

Japan's NHK reported December 25 that Chinese aircraft carrier's voyage on the East China Sea (open sea) made "JASDF very nervous as it was the first time it witnessed China's carrier strike group ". Japanese Defense Ministry has been confirming relevant situation continuously.

It reported that JASDF's frigates discovered the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning heading eastward on the East China Sea (open sea) at about 4:00 pm on December 24, accompanied by seven missile destroyers and replenishment ships.

The PLA Navy announced on the evening of December 24 that a naval taskforce headed by aircraft carrier Liaoning will have high-sea training on the West Pacific.

While, the Japanese Defense Ministry said on the early morning of Dec. 25th that "we know that the Chinese Defense Ministry announced their carrier strike group's training and testing task in the waters and airspace of East China Sea." "On the evening of December 24, the JSDF confirmed that there was no sign of fighter jets taking off from China's aircraft carrier."

In the evening of December 25, Japanese Defense Ministry announced that the Chinese carrier strike group that was sailing in the East China Sea entered the West Pacific through the Miyako Strait at about 10:00 am. "Altogether six vessels including Liaoning" passed the strait.

On the afternoon of December 25, ship-borne early warning helicopters took off "from the frigates sailing alongside the aircraft carrier Liaoning" and came to about 10km from the airspace of Miyako-jima. JASDF's fighter jets scrambled in response, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry.

The Jiji Press reported earlier that although the route to the West Pacific was unknown yet, the Chinese Navy and Air Force frequently entered the West Pacific in recent years through Miyako Strait that was close to the Diaoyu Dao.

The Asahi Shimbun claimed that this was the first time that Chinese aircraft carrier sailed to the West Pacific, and its purpose was to "break through the first island chain comprised of Japan, Taiwan and other islands" and enhance its real combat capability in a larger scope. It was also a countermove to the US president-elect Donald Trump who had taken a tough stance against Beijing on the Taiwan issue and South China Sea issue.

Some held that the aircraft carrier Liaoning may head toward the South China Sea. Asahi Shimbun reported that a home-made aircraft carrier is being built in Northeast China's Liaoning province, which is said to have a sea trial soon. The training this time is to help China's aircraft carrier gain real combat capability in the high sea before its home-made counterpart is commissioned.

Japan's Mainichi Shimbun said the voyage of Liaoning this time was to emphasize the PLA Navy's improved use of aircraft carrier and send a message to Trump about accepting the One-China principle.

The Kyodo News reported that in the past China claimed that the aircraft carrier Liaoning was aimed for scientific researches and tests for developing China's home-made aircraft carriers, but this voyage indicated that it had certain real combat capability too.

According to Jiji Press, Wu Shengli, commander of the PLA Navy, "directly commanded" aircraft carrier Liaoning during the December 23 exercise.

Many people doubted the aircraft carrier Liaoning's real combat capability, saying that "the ship-borne J-15 doesn't have enough horsepower", and "complicated applications cannot be implemented" given the pilot's degree of familiarity during training, Sankei Shimbun reported, adding that China's home-made aircraft carrier that's under construction now will probably be used in the South China Sea.

Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said in an interview on December 25 that according to information from Japanese Defense Ministry, the Chinese naval taskforce consisted of aircraft carrier Liaoning, three destroyers, three frigates and a comprehensive replenishment ship. That's basically the same composition as the carrier strike groups of other countries, but without missile cruisers.

He told the reporter that the Chinese carrier strike group's first entry to the West Pacific waters was similar to previous high-sea trainings conducted by PLA Navy's other surface vessels in distance, scope and range. The main purpose was to enter the West Pacific through the so-called first island chain.

The Chinese carrier strike group aimed to familiarize itself with the maritime environment, hydrological, meteorological and other conditions in the West Pacific, and improve its long-distance operability, overall training and combat capability.

"The series of training in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and West Pacific indicated that the aircraft carrier Liaoning and its carrier strike group have obtained combat capability."

Besides, the aircraft carrier Liaoning's debut in the high sea undoubtedly shocked some countries.

Singapore's Lian He Zao Bao and US Associated Press reported December 25 that the aircraft carrier Liaoning and its carrier strike group appeared in waters in the middle of the East China Sea for the first time but didn't encroach upon Japan's territorial sea. JSDF expected the carrier strike group to break through the first island chain through the Miyako Strait, pass waters east of Taiwan and enter the South China Sea via Bashi Channel.

Press Trust of India reported December 24 that according to previous reports, the aircraft carrier Liaoning will be deployed in the South China Sea after the comprehensive testing. China took more aggressive moves in that region after the award of the so-called "South China Sea arbitration" was released.

Taiwan's "Defense Ministry" said December 25 that it closely monitored aircraft carrier Liaoning's passage through the Miyako Strait eastward to the West Pacific for high-sea training, and it will continue to monitor whether the carrier will meet with the South China Sea Fleet later via Bashi Channel for joint exercise. The "Defense Ministry" said it will take corresponding measures to guarantee "national security" and asked Taiwan people to "rest assured".

Britain's Independent News said the Chinese military carried out realistic training of carrier strike group in the Bohai Sea and Yellow Sea, to be followed by more cross-sea-area exercises according to the plan.

The report said this carrier strike group entered South China Sea in 2013 and berthed at a naval base near Sanya, South China's Hainan province, but ship-borne aircraft didn't join the maritime training at that time. After China announced to "get ready to fight enemies", the combat capability of the aircraft carrier Liaoning and its carrier strike group has drawn international attention.

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