While America’s global carrier presence has diminished, China’s sole aircraft carrier has been transitioning from a training vessel to a combat ship.
China’s first and only carrier, the Liaoning, conducted drills in the South China Sea Monday, the Chinese navy revealed, according to Reuters.
The Liaoning was declared combat ready in November.
“As a military force, we are always prepared for war, and … are prepared for actual combat at any time,” Li Dongyu, the Liaoning’s political commissar, told the Global Times.
Since mid-December, China’s carrier fleet has drilled in the Bohai Sea, Western Pacific, and South China Sea. The U.S. does not have any aircraft carriers currently deployed at sea anywhere in the world, something that reportedly has not occurred since World War II, Fox News revealed Friday. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower returned to Norfolk, Va. Friday.
The U.S. has other military assets to fill the gap and could quickly deploy an aircraft carrier if necessary, but it is, at least, noteworthy that a rising challenger is making strides in carrier combat as a classic symbol of American power becomes less prominent.
“‘Peace through strength,’ the cardinal and bipartisan principle of American politics since World War II has all but collapsed,” Jim Talent and Jon Kyl argued in a 2013 Heritage Foundation report.
The USS Carl Vinson will reportedly sail to the Western Pacific later this month. The Liaoning’s exercises in the Western Pacific signaled China’s growing desire to build a combat-capable, blue-water navy.
Monday’s naval drill was the second time the Liaoning has taken part in exercises in the South China Sea since it was commissioned into the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in 2012.
The carrier was put to the test in “complex sea conditions.” “Compared with the Bohai Sea, Yellow Sea, and East [China] Sea, the climate and sea conditions in the South China Sea were more complicated … they posed many challenges for the fighter jets when practicing landing and taking off,” the Chinese Navy introduced through its online news portal.
The Shenyang J-15 “Flying Shark” made its South China Sea debut during the recent drill.
China claims the vast majority of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in international trade passes annually. China has voiced numerous criticisms regarding the passage of U.S. warships and aircraft through the area.
The Liaoning was originally a Soviet “heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser,” according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It was purchased under questionable circumstances in the 1990s, hauled to China, where it became the PLAN’s first carrier.
While the Chinese aircraft carrier trails behind U.S. carriers in terms of its capabilities, the Liaoning represents a major step forward for the Chinese navy, which has clear power projection ambitions.