CHINA Liaoning aircraft carrier group holds drills in 'strategically important' West Pacific

CHINA

Liaoning aircraft carrier group holds drills in 'strategically important' West Pacific

Global Times

22:30, December 21, 2021

A ship-borne J-15 fighter jet prepares to land at the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Liaoning (Hull 16). A Chinese Navy flotilla including aircraft carrier Liaoning has conducted a series of exercises in the South China Sea since the grand naval parade last Thursday. (Photo/eng.chinamil.com.cn)

A ship-borne J-15 fighter jet prepares to land at the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Liaoning (Hull 16). A Chinese Navy flotilla including aircraft carrier Liaoning has conducted a series of exercises in the South China Sea since the grand naval parade last Thursday. (Photo: eng.chinamil.com.cn)

After entering the Pacific Ocean through the Miyako Strait last week, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s Liaoning aircraft carrier battle group reportedly conducted drills involving fighter jet and helicopter operations in waters east of Japan’s Okinawa, a location Chinese analysts said on Tuesday is of strategic importance in safeguarding China’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty.

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force on Sunday spotted six PLA Navy warships, namely the Liaoning aircraft carrier, a Type 055 large destroyer, a Type 052D destroyer, two Type 054A frigates and a Type 901 comprehensive supply ship, sailing in waters about 300 kilometers east of Kitadaitojima, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan's Ministry of Defense Joint Staff said in a press release on Tuesday.

Carrier aircraft including J-15 fighter jets as well as Z-9 and Z-18 helicopters conducted takeoffs and landings during the carrier battle group’s voyage, according to the Japanese press release.

A photo attached to the press release shows the Liaoning sailing in the ocean, with many J-15 fighter jets and Z-18 helicopters ready for operation on the flight deck, while another photo caught the moment a J-15 took off from the carrier.

Japan's Ministry of Defense Joint Staff later on Tuesday published a second press release, saying the Chinese carrier group continued similar activities on Monday.

Japan claimed it dispatched the Izumo, its de facto aircraft carrier, and fighter jets to monitor the Chinese naval activities.

The latest movement of the Liaoning carrier battle group comes after Japan's Ministry of Defense Joint Staff said in another press release on Friday that the group sailed through the Miyako Strait and entered the Pacific Ocean on Thursday.

The exercise was in the West Pacific outside the Miyako Strait, which is a strategically important gateway the PLA Navy needs to cross in order to reach the West Pacific, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Holding drills there reflects the Chinese aircraft carrier’s combat and support capabilities in the high seas, Song said, noting that the value of aircraft carriers lies in their ability to operate far away from the homeland.

Chinese military observers said West Pacific is also an important potential battlefield if foreign forces like the US and Japan interfere in the Taiwan question, as Chinese aircraft carriers could take positions here and fend off foreign forces, while also surrounding the island of Taiwan from its east.

The PLA Navy’s second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, recently also embarked on a voyage and conducted realistic combat-oriented drills in the South China Sea, the People’s Daily reported on Sunday.

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