China’s Shandong aircraft carrier has recently engaged in a set of drills, focusing on honing its ability to respond to fires that could break out on the ship, possibly due to enemy actions like drone or missile attacks.
The Shandong, China’s second aircraft carrier and the first one domestically built, executed these drills while moored at its home port in Sanya, situated in China’s Hainan Province.
The PLA Navy said, “One of the objectives practiced in the multi-course regular exercises was damage control, as being capable of putting out fire below deck is vital to maintaining a warship’s endurance and combat capability.”
The drills were strategically designed, with the timing and locations deliberately chosen randomly to simulate real combat scenarios.
A military expert who did not wish to be named told the EurAsian Times that with the ongoing drone attacks in the Red Sea and during the Ukraine-Russia war, China’s PLA Navy is getting ready for all eventualities. Kamikaze UAVs, both air-lanched and sea-launched, have proved to be a big threat to all Navies, and clearly, China is taking quick lessons.
This particular aspect indicates the Chinese Navy’s readiness for potential challenges, mainly focused on addressing the possibility of fire incidents that might occur during a deployment in a conflict.
The PLA Navy detailed a comprehensive account of the fire drill, where sailors donned complete firefighting gear, including fire suits, hydraulic guns, and thermometers, and quickly responded to simulated cabin fires.
In the face of challenges such as dense smoke, restricted lines of sight, and confined spaces, these well-prepared sailors adeptly navigated the obstacles.
Their actions encompassed a series of sequential procedures, including tasks such as identifying the cause of the fire, precise extinguishing efforts, and effectively ventilating smoke.
Potential Threats To Chinese Aircraft Carrier
While the Chinese Navy did not disclose the origin of the fire on the warship, the possibility of an aircraft carrier being targeted in missile or drone attacks is a plausible explanation when contemplating impending conflict scenarios.
This assumption gains significance, especially in light of the Ukrainian conflict, where drones and missiles successfully evaded the defenses of Russian warships, causing significant damage.
Thus, the proficient training of sailors to promptly and efficiently respond to fires, particularly in challenging conditions such as heavy smoke, limited visibility, and confined spaces, is vital for sustaining the operational capability and survivability of the vessel.
In 2023, the Shandong actively participated in multiple far-seas exercises in the West Pacific. During these maneuvers, the carrier sailed to waters east of the island of Taiwan on several occasions.
Analysts interpret these strategic actions as an attempt by the carrier to block escape routes for “Taiwan independence” and to discourage foreign military interference in the region.
Given this scenario, a looming conflict between the United States and China may arise, particularly concerning Taiwan. In such a situation, the Shandong would likely play a pivotal role in efforts to counter US military actions.
Chinese experts suggest that Shandong will persist in conducting similar far-sea exercises in 2024. The objective is to improve its combat readiness further and enhance overall capabilities aligned with its strategic positioning in the geopolitical landscape.
According to reports, another training session at the flight planning and dispatch center on Shandong Island involved a dispatch, coordination, and cooperation exercise simulating carrier-based aircraft launches and recoveries.
The training utilized scaled models representing Shandong’s flight deck, various aircraft types, and miniature depictions of aircraft status. This was aimed at assisting dispatchers in efficiently managing multiple aircraft on the flight deck.
The procedures covered various aspects such as aircraft takeoff and landing, maintenance, munitions loading, and refueling. After completing these tasks, comprehensive information from different positions, including the deck and hangar, was considered.
According to a spokesperson from the PLA Navy, there are plans to intensify training in 2024, focusing on areas such as aviation support and emergency response. Combat exercises will be carried out to enhance the carrier’s combat capabilities.
After engaging in rigorous sea exercises and patrol operations, Shandong typically returns to its homeport for regular replenishment and maintenance.
However, this downtime does not mean a halt in training for the carrier’s crew members. A Chinese military expert explained that practicing damage control and aircraft dispatch is essential for carrier operations. It can be conducted at sea and while the carrier is docked at the port.