China Conducted Aircraft Carrier Operations Near Okinawa – Japan’s Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo expressed concern on Tuesday over the activity of a Chinese aircraft carrier in waters near Nansei Islands and Taiwan. Kishi told reporters that Chinese fighter jets and helicopters were seen taking off from and landing on the aircraft carrier Liaoning more than 100 times from last Tuesday (May 3) to Sunday (May 8).
The Japanese Defense Ministry has been closely monitoring the vessel, the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) first aircraft carrier since it traveled south through the waters between Okinawa’s main island and Miyakojima island and into the Pacific Ocean last week. The operations had taken place in the waters approximately 160 km (100 miles) southwest of Okinawa Prefecture’s Okidaito Island and 150 km south of its Ishigaki Island — the closest ever to Japan to date, The Japan Times reported.
“The recent activities by the Chinese military may be an attempt to improve their ability to operate aircraft carriers and conduct operations in more distant waters and airspace,” Kishi told reporters during a news conference on Tuesday afternoon. “Given that these activities are in the sea and airspace near Japan’s Nansei Islands and Taiwan, we must watch these activities with concern.”
According to the Defense Ministry, a total of eight Chinese warships, including the Liaoning and one of its most advanced guided-missile destroyers, traveled south through the Miyako Strait between Okinawa’s main island and Miyako Island on May 1 through 2. The PLAN flotilla sailed in the areas between Okidaito and Ishigaki islands, with carrier-based fighters and helicopters repeatedly conducted apparent landing and takeoff training for six straight days until this past Sunday.
The defense minister suggested that the recent naval activity could be part of China’s efforts to improve the carrier’s operational capability, as well as to enhance its ability to carry out operations in more distant locations. The Liaoning actually began life as Soviet Navy Project 11435 Kuznetsov-class heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser Varyag in the late 1980s. It was one of two former Soviet vessels purchased by Beijing to jumpstart a Chinese domestic carrier program.
Photos released by Japan’s Defense Ministry showed fighters flying in formation after taking off from the carrier.
Minister Kishi said that in response to the presence of the Chinese flotilla, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Izumo, which is Japan’s largest military vessel and a de-facto aircraft carrier, was dispatched to the region.
“The Defense Ministry will continue to monitor the movements of the Chinese military in the waters surrounding Japan with a strong sense of urgency,” Kishi added.
Until this month, the Liaoning had not been seen in the water near Japan since December. The carrier led another strike group on a round-trip voyage through the Miyako Strait for similar training involving ship-based helicopters, fighter jets and other warships.
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 Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.