China's first aircraft carrier now 'combat ready', say Chinese media
Gabriel Dominguez, London and Andrew Tate, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
16 November 2016
The People's Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN's) first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, is ready for combat operations, according to Chinese media reports.
Senior Captain Li Dongyou, the political commissar of the Soviet-era Admiral Kuznetsov-class carrier, was quoted by the state-owned Global Times newspaper on 14 November as saying that "as a military force, we are always combat ready 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. But we are preparing for actual combat at any time".
The 60,000-tonne Liaoning, which was acquired from Ukraine and commissioned in 2012, had been regarded as a ship for training and development rather than an operational asset, making this the first time the carrier has been formally described as being ready for combat.
In August Chinese state television broadcast images of Liaoning carrying eight Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) J-15 fighters as well as a Z-18 and a Z-9 helicopter on its deck.
This represented the largest number of aircraft seen on the country's only operational carrier, which first conducted flight operations in November 2012.
The footage prompted Chinese media comments that Liaoning was exhibiting "growing combat capability". During a 4 August TV programme PLAN Rear Admiral Yin Zhou said that Liaoning could carry up to 20 aircraft.
While China has developed the Changhe Z-18J airborne early warning (AEW) and Z-18F anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters, these have yet to be seen together with the J-15 on Liaoning. These aircraft could form a full air-wing for the carrier.
As IHS Jane's reported in August, Liaoning is only known to have conducted short-duration missions mainly in the Bohai and Yellow Seas: largely in support of its primary naval aviation training mission.
The carrier has so far completed only one 'distant' deployment: from its northern base to Hainan Island's Sanya naval base in late 2013, which was also the only time it has been seen sailing with destroyer and frigate escorts.