The Shandong, the second aircraft carrier of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, recently set out for realistic combat-oriented drills in the South China Sea, in a move experts said on Sunday will enhance its capabilities.
Since reports suggested that the Liaoning, the PLA Navy's first aircraft carrier, is also currently undertaking drills in the Pacific Ocean, observers are looking forward to seeing the Liaoning and the Shandong form a dual carrier group for the first time in the not-too-distant future.
The Shandong embarked on a voyage to an undisclosed area in the South China Sea in early winter for realistic combat-oriented exercises including the arrested landing of fighter jets, damage control and maritime search and rescue, the People's Daily reported on Sunday.
Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Global Times on Sunday that the domestically built aircraft carrier is constantly enhancing its combat capabilities with the naval warfare of the 21st century in mind.
This is not the first time the Shandong has held drills this year. In early May, the PLA Navy organized the Shandong aircraft carrier battle group for exercises in waters in the South China Sea, Senior Captain Gao Xiucheng, a spokesperson from the PLA Navy, said at the time.
Having just celebrated the second anniversary of its commissioning on Friday, the Shandong has a high level of combat preparedness thanks to the training and drills, analysts said.
The People's Daily report comes shortly after Japan's Ministry of Defense Joint Staff claimed on Friday that the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force spotted the Liaoning aircraft carrier battle group sailing through the Miyako Strait and entering the Pacific Ocean on Thursday.
According to Japanese press releases, the Liaoning was escorted by a Type 055 large destroyer, a Type 054A frigate, a Type 901 comprehensive supply ship and potentially a Type 052D destroyer.
Wei said that the Liaoning carrier group is likely undertaking a far sea exercise to train its capabilities to seize air superiority and control of the sea.
Since both of the PLA Navy's aircraft carriers are reportedly sailing in the ocean, military enthusiasts are looking forward to seeing them forming a dual carrier group for the first time.
As the combat capabilities of both vessels increase, it is only a matter of time before they form such a powerful group that can cover an even wider range of sea and air regions, Wei predicted. "I believe we don't need to wait for long."
It is also intriguing to see where the carriers are going next, as powerful typhoon Rai is ravaging the South China Sea, observers said.