Liaoning battle group joined by two other ships in long-range combat drills
China's carrier battle group, led by the aircraft carrier CNS Liaoning, conducted its first combat exercise in the western Pacific on Friday and Saturday, the People's Liberation Army Navy said.
The Liaoning, several guided-missile destroyers, guided-missile frigates and dozens of aircraft took part in the exercise in an unidentified area east of the Bashi Channel, the Navy said in a statement on Saturday.
The battle group practiced strike and defense maneuvers with CNS Jinanand CNS Changchun, two Type 052C destroyers from the East Sea Fleet, and honed its long-range combat capabilities, the statement said, noting that it was the first carrier battle group combat exercise to be conducted in the western Pacific by the PLA Navy.
Gao Zhaorui, chief of staff of the group, was quoted as saying the mission was aimed at verifying the collaborative ability of the group's vessels and aircraft, examining the group's offensive and defensive systems and fostering the ability of commanders to make decisions when faced with complicated circumstances.
Ding Yang, a pilot of J-15 carrier-borne fighter jets, told China Central Television that combat training over the open sea tested aviators' responses, the aircraft's readiness and commanders' skills.
The Navy's statement said the exercise involved sophisticated situations in the air and on the water, and commanders "appropriately handled various kinds of contingencies".
The Liaoning carrier battle group has been busy over the past month, traveling from its home port of Qingdao, Shandong province, to the South China Sea, where it took part in the Navy's largest-ever parade. After that, the Navy said, it conducted a series of combat training operations in the South China Sea, practicing air defense, anti-ship and anti-submarine tactics and strikes against land targets.
Sources close to the Navy said the recent drills show that the battle group is rapidly gaining full operational capability but added that pilots still need time to improve their skills, especially their ability to fly at night.
In another development, observers said the Navy will soon start sea trials of China's second aircraft carrier, the first that is designed domestically. Military fans have published many pictures on Chinese internet forums of what they said were the final preparations at a shipyard in Dalian, Liaoning province.
According to the military, the new carrier has a displacement of around 50,000 metric tons and a conventional propulsion system. It will use a ramp to launch fixed-wing aircraft and will carry J-15 fighters and other aircraft.