China’s first aircraft carrier is reportedly combat ready, signaling a breakthrough in Chinese naval power.
“As a military force, we are always prepared for war, and our combat capacity also needs to be tested by war. At this moment, we are doing our best to promote our strength and use it to prevent war, and are prepared for actual combat at any time,” Li Dongyou, the Liaoning’s political commissar, told the Global Times.
Li’s comments suggest that the Liaoning, China’s only aircraft carrier, is now carrying its full aircraft component, boosting the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Surface Force.
The carrier has previously only served as a training platform, but now it is reported to be combat capable.
The Liaoning was originally a Soviet “heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser,” according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The ship was purchased by the Chinese in the late 1990s, hauled to China a few years later, and transformed into China’s first aircraft carrier.
It was commissioned into the PLAN in September 2012.
The Liaoning outmatches the Japanese helicopter destroyer Izumo and the Indian carrier Vikramaditya in terms of speed and size; however, it pales in comparison to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, part of the Seventh Fleet.
China’s carrier holds a carrier wing of 24 J-15 multi-role fighters. The Ronald Reagan carries 55 fixed-wing aircraft capable of outperforming China’s fighters.
The carrier would face challenges in a high-intensity combat situation. The ship is better suited for humanitarian and disaster operations, training missions, and territorial sovereignty operations in the South China Sea. China has not yet stated clearly how it intends to use the Liaoning.
Were China to deploy the Liaoning to the South China Sea, it would increase China’s naval presence in the region, which already outpaces other claimant states.
China admits that the Liaoning cannot compete with the best of the U.S. Navy. “As a combat platform, regarding technology and capability to execute missions, China still lags behind the US,” Li told reporters.
A carrier fleet with an advanced air wing, which China is developing, would significantly improve China’s power projection capabilities.
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