Liaoning Live Fire Exercise Shows Off China's Ambitions
China's first operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, carried out its first live fire exercise in the Bohai Sea a few days ago, according to the Chinese Ministry of National Defense. The carrier scrambled J-15 jets to engage targets with live ordnance while the ship itself practiced anti-missile defense drills by engaging incoming threats with its air defense systems. The flight deck of the Liaoning is of a ski-ramp design, which means that aircraft have to obey a weight limit in order to take off. This, in turn, negatively affects their fuel capacity and ordnance payload. Nevertheless, imagery and video released by the Chinese military highlighted how the embarked J-15 aircraft are still able to deploy with a limited number of PL-12 air-to-air missiles and YJ-83 anti-ship missiles.
In addition to launching and recovering aircraft, the Liaoning also practiced operating alongside other vessels as a combined battle group, with frigates and destroyers acting as escorts to the aircraft carrier, fulfilling various roles as dictated by the scenario. Despite rapid progress, China's carrier aviation remains in the early stages of development. The Liaoning has yet to embark a full compliment of aircraft and only initial batches of the carrier's actual aircrew have been trained. Furthermore, the live fire exercise carried out by the Liaoning battle group took place very close to Chinese shores, and not far from the carrier's homeport.
China previously announced that the Liaoning was ready for combat, but the reality is that the aircraft carrier will largely remain a training vessel focused on the development of initial cadres of carrier aviation pilots and crew. Nevertheless, China has an ambitious carrier program in place, with another ski-ramp carrier design nearing completion, closely followed by a more modern catapult design shortly after. China's third aircraft carrier, incorporating the catapult design, will be the first fully-capable Chinese aircraft carrier and will embark the full range of carrier aircraft types required — aircraft that are currently under development in China.