China’s latest show of naval force occurred on Sunday in the East China Sea, where the aircraft carrier Liaoning led a fleet of undetermined size in live-fire combat drills.
It was essentially the same flotilla that conducted intimidating naval drills around Taiwan last week, but this time the intended audience was Japan.
Stars & Stripes quotes Chinese media reports that the Liaoning carrier group “conducted anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare training that included detecting enemy aircraft with radar and launching jets and anti-aircraft missiles.”
The Chinese claim their ships “successfully detected and dodged an attack from enemy submarines” during the simulation.
Multiple launches and recoveries of J-15 fighters from the Liaoning were reportedly conducted, with the fighters launching air-to-air missiles during the exercise. This would be a significant development if true because even Chinese media have expressed skepticism that the cumbersome J-15 can operate with full armament from the relatively primitive Liaoning, a Russian Cold War design that launches planes from its “ski slope” bow.
The next generation of Chinese carriers will purportedly be equipped with advanced electromagnetic catapults that can launch the J-15 more easily. Stars & Stripes notes that although it has been deployed in a string of intimidating combat exercises over the past few weeks, the Liaoning was always portrayed as a testing and research vessel by the Chinese military. The first true combat carrier in the Chinese navy, the Shandong, is supposed to begin sea trials soon—possibly even this week, to coincide with the 69th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
The East China Sea includes the disputed Senkaku Islands claimed by both Japan and China, which refers to them as the Diaoyu Islands. Tensions have increased with several recent Japanese complaints about Chinese military activity in the region. Although China’s aggression in the South China Sea receives more press coverage in the West, some analysts believe the East China Sea is more likely to be the scene of a conflict that could involve the United States, given Japan’s fraught relationship with China and close alliance with America.
In the wake of China’s exercises in the Straits of Taiwan, the Taiwanese announced on Tuesday that they will hold their own live-fire drill from June 6 to 8, simulating a Chinese attack on the island nation.