A Chinese aircraft carrier, which raised eyebrows by undergoing an overhaul and upgrades just over two years after its launch, held combat drills in the South China Sea with its full battle group, consisting of a flotilla of warships, including a nuclear submarine, as Beijing heightens tensions over Taiwan.
The Shandong – the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s second aircraft carrier and the first domestically built – recently held comprehensive drills in the South China Sea as part of a squad consisting of complete combat elements, which analysts said showed the aircraft carrier is preparing for operations on the high seas, the Global Times reported on Friday.
Shandong conducted realistic combat-focused drills in an undisclosed area of the South China Sea in early fall to thoroughly test the force’s combat capabilities, the report said, citing a press note. of the PLA South Sea Fleet published on Wednesday.
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During the drills, Shandong hosted take-off and landing operations of J-15 carrier-based fighter jets and practiced refueling operations at sea, according to the press release.
A video attached to the press release showed the carrier maneuvering in a battle group that included a large Type 055 destroyer, a Type 052D destroyer, a Type 054A frigate and a Type 901 full supply ship.
Generally speaking, a nuclear-powered attack submarine would also be part of an aircraft carrier group, according to the report citing a defense expert.
Shandong’s drills in the South China Sea with its entire combat group come at a time when China has stepped up military exercises near Taiwan after the recent visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-level visit by a US official in 25 years, sparking tensions in the region.
The report of the carrier conducting combat drills came as a number of US lawmakers began visiting Taiwan after Pelosi’s high-stakes trip.
On Friday, US Senator Marsha Blackburn traveled to Taipei and visited Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
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Pelosi’s visit prompted China to launch the drills which saw it fire missiles and send dozens of warplanes and ships over and around the self-governing island, which Beijing says will be reunified with the mainland, even by force.
Beijing claims that Taiwan is part of it under the “One China” policy and takes umbrage against any official and diplomatic contact of other countries with Taipei.
China has also had to contend with periodic incursions by US naval vessels, including aircraft carriers and aircraft, challenging Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea and to assert freedom of navigation.
China claims most of the South China Sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims over the region.
The Shandong entered service with the PLA Navy in December 2019 in Sanya, south China’s Hainan Province.
In April, it had to undergo its first maintenance and a full review, upgrades and overhaul, according to state media, raising questions about its operational readiness.
Defense experts say that while China is producing carriers at a faster rate, fighter jets based on J-15 carriers, which have been declared too heavy to deploy on carriers, are still under development.
China is rapidly modernizing its navy, launching a battleship almost every month or two.
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In June, China launched its third aircraft carrier Fujian, which was considered the most advanced because it has a catapult system called the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS) for the aircraft to take off and land.
The system is also used on the US Navy’s Gerald R Ford-class aircraft carriers, according to media reports.
Liaoning and Shandong both have ski jump ramps, while Fujian has a flat-top cockpit.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who leads the military alongside the ruling Communist Party of China (CCP), has led sweeping military reforms, including downsizing the army and enhancing the role of the navy and air force as Beijing aims for global expansion. with military bases in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.
China has also taken over the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka for a 99-year lease and has expanded and upgraded the Pakistani port of Gwadar in the Arabian Sea.
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