China’s much-hyped Liaoning aircraft carrier ‘flawed’; US commander says his ‘operational restrictions’ have been revealed – Community News
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China’s much-hyped Liaoning aircraft carrier ‘flawed’; US commander says his ‘operational restrictions’ have been revealed

The Liaoning aircraft carrier, the symbol of Chinese prestige and naval prowess, appears to have some operational limitations, according to a US Navy commander.

These disclosures include details of an image of the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning taken from the USS Mustin guided-missile destroyer last year during a close encounter in the disputed South China Sea.

Recounting the incident, Vice Admiral Roy Kitchener, the commander of the US Naval Surface Forces, claimed the Chinese aircraft carrier was subject to “operating restrictions”. The USS Mustin tracked the Liaoning and was able to photograph and observe the aircraft carrier, he claimed.

He revealed on Tuesday at the annual Surface Navy Association conference that U.S. crew members “realized that at some point, all the Chinese escorts kind of flinched” because “there were some operational restrictions they had around the carrier.”

“USS Mustin didn’t have those (restrictions),” he said. “They went further inside, found a good station and sat side by side for quite some time taking pictures and doing other things.”

The captain and deputy commander of the USS Mustin sat side by side in an instant, looking at the Liaoning, which was only a few miles away. The photo was widely distributed around the world and was seen as a message to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Officers on the USS Mustin look at the Liaoning during the encounter. Photo: US Navy

Response from China

Although the episode was a closing act for American sailors, it enraged China, who reacted vociferously. Chinese authorities called the activities “despicable” and accused the US of threatening Chinese ships and troops.

The ease with which US Navy personnel could photograph Chinese aircraft carriers was a major topic of discussion last year. Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at the Taiwan Naval Academy in Kaohsiung, was quoted by SCMP as saying, “The Liaoning may have been engaged in a complicated exercise, which allowed US officers to take pictures.”

Meanwhile, Song Zhongping, a former Chinese military instructor, argued that the PLA followed pre-planned travel routines, but that US crews’ operational parameters were more flexible.

“It’s very common for warships to sail so close for parallel monitoring in unexpected encounters on the high seas,” Lu said. “But it is rare for the captain and his deputy to sit together, showing that the Liaoning gave the USS Mustin quite a lot of time to take the picture because of its operational limitations.”

Liaoning Aircraft Carrier
Liaoning Aircraft Carrier

Last year, the photo was taken for a Chinese naval photo gallery to commemorate the navy’s 72nd anniversary. It highlighted Americans’ concerns about an emerging China, Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming told SCMP.

“When we conduct operations now, whether it’s on the East Coast or the West Coast, the Black Sea or the South China Sea, we are face to face with our adversaries,” Kitchener said. “They’re there. They represent. And we manage the risk, and our sailors get really good at it.” The US Navy is used to collaborating with other troops, but encounters with Chinese naval forces have escalated in recent years as tensions between the two nations have increased.

The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning

The Liaoning, a Chinese type 001 aircraft carrier that was deployed in 2012, is PLAN’s first aircraft carrier. The ship was renamed the Varyag in 1990.

Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning - Wikipedia
Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning – Wikipedia

It was originally designed for the Soviet Navy as a ‘large aircraft-carrying cruiser’. In 1998, a Chinese tourist operator bought the incomplete hull and three years later the ship was towed from Ukraine to China, where it underwent major modernization of the hull, radar and electronics.

The Liaoning air wing marks a significant step forward in the PLAN’s air capabilities, although, like the aircraft carrier itself, it has limitations. The aircraft aboard the Liaoning are capable and modern, although they are largely limited by the ship’s aircraft launch mechanism.

The carrier air wing includes 24 Shenyang J-15 fighters, six Changhe Z-18F anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters, four Changhe Z-18J airborne early warning helicopters and two Harbin Z-9C rescue helicopters.

Nine J-15s, nearly half the total ever produced, aboard the Liaoning.

This aircraft combination is in line with the Soviet aircraft carrier doctrine, which calls for support for nuclear submarines, large-area fighters and land-based attack bombers supported by aircraft carriers.

The Liaoning Air Force suffers from a lack of training and manpower experience compared to other countries. In November 2012, Chinese carrier pilots began training on board the ship, and the PLAN qualified its first air wing of domestically trained J-15 pilots in 2015.

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