The Chinese news publication Global Times reported that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has declared that the Liaoning, its first and only aircraft carrier, is now ‘combat ready.’
The announcement was reportedly made by Senior Captain Li Dongyou, the political commissar of the Liaoning, who affirmed Beijing’s intention to “promote [China’s] strength and use it to prevent war” as well as be prepared for “actual combat at any time.”
As per Li, the Liaoning has “more than 1,000 non-commissioned officers” comprising of many experienced PLAN personnel, some with more than 20 years of experience in the service.
The Liaoning is the Admiral Kuznetsov-class Varyag, which China bought from Ukraine in the late 1990s through a private Hong Kong-based business (which reportedly bought the incomplete carrier on the claim of turning it into a floating casino). The Varyag reached China in 2002.
Through the mid-to-late 2000s, the Varyag was completed into the Liaoning. The PLAN loaded the Liaoning with Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) J-15, which analysts believe to a local replication of the Sukhoi Su-33. IHS Jane’s believes that the Z-18J airborne early warning helicopter and Z-18F anti-submarine warfare helicopters could also join the J-15 onboard the Liaoning.
Notes & Comments:
China’s regional interests are expansive. Strategic issues, such as Taiwan and water disputes with neighbouring states along the South China sea, the East China Sea, and the Yellow Sea, have made nearby maritime issues a matter of central concern to Beijing.
Safeguarding trade, securing resources (e.g. fish, oil and gas deposits, minerals, etc), and building a buffer against Washington (which also maintains long-term security and economic interests in the Asia Pacific), are at least some of the specific issues driving Beijing’s pursuit of a fully capable Blue Water Navy.
The Liaoning – as well as reportedly two additional carriers – are arriving in tandem with the PLAN’s wider fleet development goals, which have included the construction of anti-air warfare capable destroyers, many multi-mission frigates, and submarines (conventional and nuclear-powered).
Although declared ‘combat ready’, analysts believe the Liaoning’s objective – or at this stage, achievement – would rest in enabling the PLAN to acclimate itself to carrier operations, which will support its long-term objective to fielding multiple aircraft carriers (which could potentially include landing helicopter docks).