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China’s Aircraft Carrier Fleet Is the Real Deal

China's Liaoning Aircraft Carrier
China's Liaoning Aircraft Carrier. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

China’s aircraft carriers are growing up right in front of our eyes: On Monday, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) flotilla, led by the aircraft carrier Liaoningtransited the Miyako Strait – a key gateway into the Western Pacific Ocean that is closely monitored by Japan. According to the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, the passage of the carrier and seven escort ships near Okinawa Prefecture and exercises in the Pacific are likely intended to check military activities by the United States, Japan, and other nations in the region.

The PLAN warships, which consisted of four-guided missile destroyers, including the state-of-the-art Type 055 vessel, and a Type 901 fast combat support ship, sailed between the main Okinawa Island and Miyakojima, according to the Japanese ministry. The warships were joined by another guided-missile destroyer and a frigate. Although there was no incursion into Japan’s territorial waters, helicopters on board the Liaoning aircraft carrier took off and landed during the transit, the ministry added.

Aircraft Carriers Are All Over the Indo-Pacific 

The Chinese carrier group was tracked by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces’ Izumo, a de-facto aircraft carrier and along with its sister ship is the largest Japanese warship in service today. Surveillance aircraft from Izumo monitored the Liaoning-led flotilla.

It was the first time that the Chinese carrier has entered the region since December when it led another strike group on a similar round-trip voyage through the Miyako Strait. It was in April 2021 following another Liaoning-led flotilla that Beijing announced it would conduct regular passages to the Western Pacific.

Chinese navy spokesman Gao Xiucheng said the warships were on a “routine training” mission. “It is in line with relevant international laws and practices, and without targeting any party,” Gao said on Tuesday, according to a report from the South China Morning Post.

The region is certainly seeing more than its fair share of carrier-based activity. The United States Navy’s USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group is currently deployed in the Philippine Sea.

The deployment of the Chinese flotilla comes just weeks after the Chinese military conducted a large-scale naval and air force exercise in the East China Sea. It was reportedly, “in response to the recent frequent false signals released by the U.S. on the Taiwan issue,” Gao added.

Such military exercises have been a common way for the branches of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to demonstrate power and resolve whenever tensions simmer over self-ruled Taiwan. Beijing continues to maintain that it is a breakaway province that will be returned to mainland control, and by force if necessary.

More Aircraft Carriers Coming Soon?

The Liaoning is the first Chinese aircraft carrier. It is a refurbished Soviet Navy vessel that was purchased from Ukraine after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. A second carrier, the Shandong, was based on the Liaoning‘s design and became China’s first domestically produced carrier.

China Aircraft Carrier

A Chinese Aircraft Carrier on the high-seas. Image Credit: Chinese Internet.

Beijing is currently constructing its third and most modern aircraft carrier, as part of President Xi Jinping’s effort to project even more power in the high seas. However, the timing of that launching could depend on the Covid-19 pandemic, which has impacted the warship’s construction, as well as political considerations – as China’s ruling Communist Party is due to hold a key conclave this autumn, where Xi is expected to secure a third term in office.

South Korea is also seeking to build its first aircraft; while the Japanese modified the Izumo to operate with the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II, and as a result became the island nation’s first “carrier” since the Second World War.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.