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A J-15 jet fighter prepares to take off from the deck of the Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier, during a drill in the South China Sea on Monday. Photo: CNS

J-15 fighter jets from China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier make South China Sea debut

Liaoning and its escorts have been carrying out high-profile exercises in seas around China since December

China’s aircraft carrier-based J-15 fighter jets made a high-profile debut over the South China Sea on Monday amid tensions with the United States.

The J-15 “Flying Shark”, stationed on board the Liaoning, China’s sole aircraft carrier, since 2013, practised operations as the vessel sailed in heavy seas, Xinhua reported.

The Liaoning and its escorts have been carrying out a series of exercises since December, including a live ammunition drill in the Bohai Sea and a patrol in the Western Pacific that took it close to Japan’s Okinawa and Taiwan. The fleet made a brief stop in Hainan before entering the South China Sea.

Admiral Wu Shengli, commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, and Miao Hua, the navy’s political commissar, were on board the carrier during the latest exercise.

The navy’s official website,, released a series of photographs taken of the operation and applauded the fighter jets for carrying out drills in all of the various waters near China.

“Compared with the Bohai Sea, Yellow Sea, and East [China] Sea, the climate and sea conditions in the South China Sea were more complicated ... They posed many challenges for the fighter jets when practising landing and taking off,” the website said.

A J-15 jet fighter takes off from the Liaoning aircraft carrier during Monday’s drill in the South China Sea. Photo: CNS

Wang Xiaowei, deputy chief of the Liaoning’s aviation department, said that with the drills in the various maritime areas, the carrier had progressed from being a training platform to being a combat-ready vessel.

Xinhua reported that complex hydrological and meteorological conditions in the South China Sea as well as a cold front in the area posed some challenges, but the drill provided important experience in helping to establish the combat capability of the aircraft carrier formation.

China's Liaoning aircraft carrier (centre) and its escort ships carry out a drill in the South China Sea on Monday. Photo: CNS
China’s domestically developed J-15, which is based on the Soviet-designed Sukhoi Su-33, practised inflight refueling and air combat, as well as contingency manoeuvres that included miss­ed approaches and touch-and-go landings.

Monday’s operations were the Liaoning’s second period of training in the South China Sea, where China’s vast claims are disputed by several neighbours.

It sailed to the South China Sea in 2013, one year after the Soviet-built carrier was commissioned by the navy.

The latest drill, which saw the warships sail around the east coast of Taiwan, came at a time of rising tensions between the mainland and Taiwan following Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s refusal to recognise the 1992 consensus on one China and her phone conversation with US president-elect Donald Trump shortly after his electoral victory.

Beijing said the drill was routine, but Taiwan called it part of a rising threat from the mainland.

Meanwhile, US television news channel Fox News reported that this week – for the first time since the second world war – there was not a single American aircraft carrier deployed at sea anywhere in the world. But the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier would be deployed in the Western Pacific later this month, the report said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: fighters in South China Sea debut