The aircraft carrier Shandong of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy recently conducted a series of exercises in which it had made new breakthroughs, with Chinese experts saying on Sunday that the carrier could soon embark on its second far sea voyage beyond the “first island chain.”
In a move to fully examine its comprehensive combat capabilities, the Shandong carried out combat-oriented training in an undisclosed sea region in mid-summer, the PLA Navy said on Friday in a press release.
During the drills, the Shandong explored its potential under strict combat-oriented requirements, and achieved breakthroughs in terms of aircraft sorties, training difficulty and mission intensity, according to the press release.
A video accompanying the press release shows that at least six additional warships, including a Type 055 large destroyer, two Type 052D destroyers, two Type 054A frigates and a Type 901 comprehensive replenishment ship, accompanied the Shandong in the carrier combat group.
The Shandong carried a number of aircraft on its flight deck, including J-15 fighter jets, Z-8 helicopters and Z-18 helicopters. Three echelons consisting of three J-15s each flew over the aircraft carrier as a part of the exercises.
The J-15 fighter jets also carried out nighttime takeoff and landing exercises on board the Shandong.
In April, the aircraft carrier conducted its first-ever far sea exercise in the West Pacific since its commissioning in December 2019. During the exercise, the carrier participated in combat alert patrols and “Joint Sword” exercises encircling the island of Taiwan in waters to the east of the island from April 7 to April 12, reached waters about 600 to 700 kilometers to the west of Guam on April 15 and 16, before returning through the Bashi Channel into the South China Sea, according to publicly available reports.
According to press releases from Japan’s Defense Ministry Joint Staff at that time, the Shandong hosted about 620 aircraft sorties during the 18-day exercise, surpassing the previous record set by the aircraft carrier Liaoning, which was about 320 aircraft sorties in 15 days.
As the PLA Navy said that the latest exercises by the Shandong made new breakthroughs, this record might have been broken again, a Chinese military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Sunday.
The combat capabilities of the Shandong will continue to improve with every exercise, the above-quoted expert said.
China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has on average held two far sea exercises one year in the West Pacific in recent years. And now, as the second carrier Shandong has reached full operational capability, it may also hold two or even more voyages beyond the “first island chain” this year, the expert said.