Mainland's first carrier returns from sea trials
The mainland's first aircraft carrier returned to its temporary home port of Dalian in the northeastern province of Liaoning yesterday after ending a five-day maiden voyage that took it into the Yellow Sea.
The Beijing-based Legal Mirror reported the Soviet-built carrier, formerly known as the Varyag, was towed by six vessels and appeared less than two kilometres from shore about 10.45am. The 300-metre behemoth carrier blew three steamed whistles for a total of around 20 seconds as its was led into the shipyard at around 11am.
Some dockworkers set off firecrackers to celebrate while others rolled out a huge red banner hailing the giant vessel's 'triumphant return' from its first sea trial.
The state news agency Xinhua provided no details about the ship's activities during the five-day test, although the Global Times, published by the People's Daily, said the carrier had simulated landings on its distinctive ski-jump deck.
The report did not specify the type of the plane or planes used, but it has been widely speculated that the still-unfinished J-15, China's version of the Soviet-made Su-33, was intended for use on the carrier.
Long-time People's Liberation Army watcher Antony Wong Dong of the International Military Association in Macau said the carrier technology was still too new - and the risk of error too high - for the navy to attempt actual landings at sea.
The PLA is only believed to only have three prototypes of the J-15 and the plane is not expected to be ready for deployment in the field until 2013 at the earliest.
'Nobody can rule out the landing of the home-made Z-8 helicopter during the sea trial,' Wong said.
The navy more likely focused on the basics, such as making sure the ship's diesel turbines and rudder were in working order.
Engines, electronic devices and weaponry had been removed from the half-built ship before China bought it from Ukraine in 1998 for US$20 million. Beijing is negotiating with Kiev to buy engines that could be used to equip a second aircraft carrier, according to a report by a Russian-based military website that was picked up by Xinhua.
The report, quoting a Ukrainian 'geopolitical expert,' boasted that the former Soviet republic had been instrumental in helping China to acquire the equipment and training need to operate the carrier.
The report noted that the mainland's potential military rivals, including the US, showed little concern when the retired warship was purchased because the military lacked any carrier-based fighter aircraft. The PLA has since made significant advancements. One outspoken PLA general recently said the mainland needed at least three carriers.
Wong said the heavy reliance by Chinese vessels and aircraft on Russian-made engines was one of PLA's most explicit shortcomings in terms of military technology.