China has successfully conducted its first flight landing on its new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, state media reported on Sunday, in a move that extends Beijing’s ability to project its growing military might in territorial disputes.
A carrier-based fighter jet, identified as the J-15, was seen landing and taking off in exercises on the Liaoning in a video shown Saturday night on China Network Television, the online division of state broadcaster CCTV. The station did not disclose the date or dates on which the exercises were conducted.
“The successful landing... has always been seen as a symbol of the operating combat capability for an aircraft carrier,” Zhang Junshe, a vice director at the military’s Naval Affairs Research Institute, told state television.
“This is a landmark event for China’s aircraft carrier... and [moves it] one step closer to combat readiness.”
This is the first official confirmation of a successful flight exercise on the Liaoning since the Chinese Communist Party-sponsored tabloid Global Times broke the news on November 20, quoting anonymous sources.
[A clip from CCTV shows the J-15 landing at 1:34--1:55 and taking off at 2:41--3:12.]
The flight exercise also marked the unveiling of the J-15 as China’s first generation multipurpose carrier-borne fighter jet, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted the Chinese navy as saying.
"The technical capabilities of both the carrier platform and the aircraft were adequately tested and proven. The carrier-aicraft compatibility was excellent, and reached design specifications," said the Xinhua report.
During the tests, highly technical cable landing technology was employed, China's defence ministry said without going into details.
The take off of the J-15 was also successful, it added.
Since the carrier entered service, the crew have completed more than 100 training and test programmes, the ministry said.
The Chinese navy took delivery of the Liaoning, which was retrofitted and rebuilt from the unfinished Soviet carrier, the Varyag, only two months ago. The 300-metre ship had undergone extensive repair and refitting in Liaoning province for the past 10 years.
Its commission was seen as a symbol of China's rising naval ambitions and intensified maritime disputes China has with its neighbours over the South China Sea and Diaoyu Islands.
Tensions in the East China Sea have risen dramatically in recent months over islands known as the Diaoyus to Beijing and claimed by Tokyo as the Senkakus.
China is locked in a similar row with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea.
At a key Communist Party congress earlier this month, outgoing President Hu Jintao urged the nation to push forward fast-paced military modernisation and set the goal of becoming a “maritime power”.
Such an endeavour would mean that China would soon need to construct an independently built aircraft carrier, Hu Wenming, chairman of China State Shipbuilding Corp (CSSC) that retro-fitted the Liaoning, said.
“We must enhance our independent weapons and equipment research and production capacity to match the country’s clout, and independently build our own aircraft carriers,” Hu told the China Daily on the sidelines of the congress.
A top Taiwan intelligence official said earlier this year that China had already decided to build two aircraft carriers. However despite rumours that work has already begun, there is no evidence has started.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.