China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, will undergo a longer period of sea trials than those already conducted by the company that refitte it before it can train with planes, submarines and frigates to form a battle group, the People's Liberation Army Daily reported yesterday.
The army mouthpiece also sought to assure the international community that the carrier, which was handed over to the PLA Navy on Tuesday but which as yet carries no aircraft, would pose no threat to the world, and China's military strategy remains focused on self-defence.
Senior Captain Zhang Junshe , deputy director of the Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said it may take three years or more before the Liaoning could develop combat capabilities.
"Even for the US Navy, it would take two to three years for a new aircraft carrier to develop combat capabilities," Zhang said. "It may take longer for the Chinese navy, which has never had experience with an aircraft carrier before."
Dr Fang Bing , associate professor at the PLA's National Defence University, said the carrier would undergo a series of sea trials to verify the results of 10 trials carried out by its refitter, state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, since August. They would focus on ensuring the smooth functioning of equipment, and be followed by trials related to military goals.
It would then train with submarines, frigates and planes to eventually form a battle group.
Even so, the carrier would remain a training vessel.
Meng Xiangqing , a researcher at the National Defence University, told the newspaper that the carrier bears the hull number 16 to indicate it was purely for training purposes. He said all combat ships were given triple-digit hull numbers. The only other PLA vessels with double-digit hull numbers are two training ships in Dalian .
Fang said the refitting of the second-hand Soviet carrier, which took seven years, was meant to help China build its own carriers in the future.
"I always use this analogy. It is like we buy a half-finished house because we have never built a house. We first learn how to fix the electricity, water and the heating in the building … and refurbish it so it can be used. When we know the structure of the house, we can learn how to build our own houses," Fang said.
A commentary on the front page of the PLA Daily said the carrier was a symbol of China's "big nation" status, with all five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Brazil and India, having at least one carrier.
It remains unclear what kind of aircraft the Liaoning will carry. Senior Colonel Du Wenlong , a researcher at the Academy of Military Sciences, told the People's Daily website that older aircraft such as the J-11 would be a good choice.