China’s second aircraft carrier group led by Shandong has concluded its first known operational deployment of the year in the South China Sea, almost immediately after its sister ship Liaoning sailed through the waters with its escort group a month ago.
The full details of the vessels in the carrier battle group remain unknown. The latest exercise involved communications, maneuvers, coordination, and field training, Sr. Capt. Gao Xiucheng, the spokesperson for the PLA Navy, said on May 2.
Gao said that these drills are part of regular series of exercises and are fully legitimate and legal. These exercises would boost the service’s experience with the carrier fleet to defend China’s “sovereignty”, “security”, and “development interests” as well as “regional peace and stability”.
“We hope the outside world can view [the Shandong’s exercise] objectively and rationally. The PLA Navy will continue to organize similar exercises according to the plan regularly in the future,” Gao said, referring to the international concerns over China’s rising aggression in West Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
Shandong Aircraft Carrier
According to observers, this is the first “public” known deployment of Shandong in 2021. The Shandong was commissioned in December 2019 at Sanya, Hainan by President Xi Jinping, who is also the chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Interestingly, the Shandong got its initial operational clearance just last year in October.
Earlier in August 2020, tensions escalated in the region when an American U-2 spy plane flew over the Yellow Sea when Shandong was conducting live-fire drills and the area was declared a no-fly zone.
Shandong is the PLA Navy’s second aircraft carrier after Liaoning and the first indigenously built. It was initially designated as a Type 001A air carrier during development but was finalized as Type 002 at the time of commissioning.
The carrier’s design is based heavily on the Liaoning, and it uses the conventional oil-fired boilers driving eight steam turbines derived from the Soviet-designed units installed on the former.
It carries a fleet of Shenyang J-15 fighter jets, which are considered a spinoff of the Russian SU-33 deck-based fighter jets. However, the Russian Navy replaced its Su-33 fleet with the MiG-29-K in 2009, an aircraft that Shandong’s most likely rival INS Vikramaditya also operates.
For aerial operations, the carrier uses the traditional STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) configuration. The ski jump has an angle of 12° instead of the 14° on the Liaoning, which is considered the ideal angle for launching the J-15 fighter.
The Liaoning made headlines earlier in April when it sailed through international waters near Japanese Miyako Strait, along with its carrier group consisting of a Type 055 class stealth guided-missile destroyer Nanchang, two Type 052D destroyers Chengdu and Taiyuan, the Type 054A frigate Huanggang and the Type 901 comprehensive supply ship Hulunhu.
The Japanese and American forces reacted strongly and despatched warships and Maritime Patrol Aircraft to trail the Chinese fleet.