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Liaoning aircraft carrier

Inside the Liaoning, the warship with 10 cafeterias, a TV station and even a band

More than 2,000 people live, exercise and train inside China’s first aircraft carrier. What do they eat and do in their spare time? We have the answers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 10:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 10:32am

This weekend China is opening up its Liaoning aircraft carrier to the public for the first time. The ship will arrive in Hong Kong on Friday, accompanied by two destroyers and a frigate. Only 2,000 tickets for the tour at the weekend were handed out, leaving many who had lined up for hours disappointed. But for the lucky few, the visit is a peek into a deeply specialised community, one that works, eats and sleeps together in a maze of hallways and rooms, surrounded by some of the most sophisticated technology and weapons in the Chinese military. Here’s a quick guide to the Liaoning and what visitors can expect.

How will people get aboard?

With a displacement of about 60,000 tonnes, the Liaoning must berth in deep water, and it’s expected to moor in waters off Tsing Yi. Visitors will board a ferry that will take them to a floating platform connected to the carrier, via a gangway.

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What’s the most eye-catching part of the ship?

The flight deck. That’s where the fighter jets, the J-15s, are moved into position by elevator from the hanger bay below. On public tours of American aircraft carriers, visitors have been allowed to take the elevator, but the People Liberation Army has not yet said whether Hongkongers can expect the same.

What’s the top attraction?

The J-15, China’s sole aircraft designed for carrier operation. It was developed by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation and based on the Soviet-era Sukhoi Su-33. The flight deck is about a tenth the length of a regular runway, so the J-15s were designed to take off using a minimal amount of distance. According to an earlier report by PLA Daily, the Liaoning was carrying more than 20 J-15s when it departed its home port of Qingdao in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong on June 25.

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Where’s the command centre?

In the flight-control tower, also known as the “island”. It’s where the captain and commander sit and manage all activity on the flight deck, as well as the airspace within 10 nautical miles of the ship.

How many rooms does it have?

More than 3,800, including ones for sleeping, eating, exercise and laundry. There’s also the mess hall and even a store, where sailors can buy snacks and everyday items. The largest room is the hanger bay, where the J-15s, helicopters and other aircraft are stored. The fighter jets can fold up their wings to save room.

What’s the ship’s core?

The engine room. The Liaoning was bought from Ukraine, and underwent extensive retrofitting before entering service in 2012 . According to a documentary shown on Chinese state TV, the carrier has retained the original Soviet-built diesel propulsion system. But according to Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie and Macau-based military commentator Antony Wong Dong, China has made significant upgrades.

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What about the living quarters?

For security reasons, every sailor carries a photo ID, which must be swiped to enter areas. Access is restricted according to a sailor’s assigned department. Men and women live apart, and fingerprint scanners restrict entry to the women’s quarters. Most sailors are given single beds about 1 metre wide and 2 metres long.

How’s the food?

With nearly 20 ethnic minorities on board, it’s varied. They eat in 10 cafeterias, including ones specially designed for Muslims. They are offered four appetisers, six main courses and two desserts, going through two to three tonnes of food per day.

What about leisure activities?

With crew members at sea for months at a time, keeping everyone in good spirits with plenty to do is crucial. There is a book centre, where crew can take out an item or donate one. They can watch TV, and tune in to the Liaoning’s own station, which broadcasts news and current events twice a week. The ship even has an in-house music band, called “Deep Blue”. When the crew really need to stretch out, the flight deck is turned into a makeshift soccer pitch. There is also an annual basketball competition, with 15 teams competing.

What about medical care?

The Liaoning stocks a variety of medication and is equipped with a treatment room and an X-ray room.