New video has surfaced showing operations aboard China’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, complete with the head of the Chinese Navy’s making a visit and J-15 fighters landing and launching. More importantly, it shows how much Chinese aircraft carrier operations have evolved.
This includes footage of one of the jets with an air-to-air load-out launching from mid-ship launch position. The video was supposedly shot during recent training in the Bohai Sea.
According to a report by Channel News Asia, Chinese media has recently ran stories underscoring the fact that the country’s carrier has transitioned from in development to an operational capability.
“The official People’s Liberation Army Daily said in a front-page editorial that the carrier had achieved “obvious progress” in raising its combat effectiveness since the start of the year.
The number of aircraft based on the carrier and the number of daily flights had both increased, while “many” pilots had qualified to operate the Shenyang J-15 fighter jet on the carrier, the report said.
The navy had therefore made a “key breakthrough” in shifting from the testing phase to being able to operate ship-borne aircraft, the newspaper said.”
The visit of Chinese Navy Chief Wu Shengli last week was to observe the progress that has been made in the years since the Liaoning and her J-15 fighters first went to sea for testing, about three and a half years ago.
China’s showcasing of a more mature aircraft carrier capability comes as claims have emerged that at least one new Chinese carrier is in production today. What is known is that China seeks a multi-carrier fleet in the 2020s, capable of supporting persistent operations in key hot-spots, such as the South China Sea.
Currently, estimates are that China seeks a fleet of four aircraft carriers, but what is not clear is if China will migrate to a more advanced catapult and barrier-arrestment carrier configuration in future designs. Some speculation is that China could possibly split its initial fleet between two ski-jump equipped carriers and two Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) equipped ones.
If China moves to CATOBAR format carriers it would drastically improve their combat effectiveness. The CATOBAR concept, like America’s carriers, allows for increased sortie rates and much heavier weapons carrying capabilities for fighter aircraft. It also allows for a wider range of aircraft to be deployed on the carrier, with support aircraft, such as early warning and control aircraft, enhancing the fighter contingent of the Air Wing’s capabilities.
Yet seeing as China’s carrier capability remains in its infancy, the idea of jumping so quick to a much more complex concept is doubtful. They will also need an aircraft capable accommodating catapult takeoffs. This could possibly come in the form of a navalized J-31. Fielding a carrier-capable J-31 would also leap-from China’s ability to project stealthy airpower abroad.
If China does end up fielding a multi-carrier fleet in the not so distant future, it will only further skew the balance of power in the region. Japan, Taiwan and countries that have claims on portions of the South China Sea have the most to lose if such a reality comes to pass.
As for the U.S., it is possible we could see a second or third forward deployed aircraft carrier as a response, something that may already be in the works.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.