It looks like an aircraft carrier, it has been an aircraft carrier in the past, but when the recently launched Liaoning cannot let planes land or leave, is it perhaps only a helicopter carrier? Military analysts are heavily divided, writes defense expert Wendell Minnick in Defense News.
Soon after the carrier, named Liaoning, was commissioned Sept. 25 at Dalian Naval Base, Western analysts began dissecting photos and videos posted by the country’s state-controlled media. Some believe the images raise the possibility that Liaoning might be closer to fielding a carrier-based fighter jet capability than previously thought, while others are unconvinced.
In the past, photos of what appeared to be the Shenyang J-15 Sea Shark fighter, a variant of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33, on the deck of the carrier were dismissed by analysts as mock-ups. No photos or videos have been seen of a fighter landing on or taking off from the carrier, but images and video from the induction ceremony show skid marks on the flight deck. A video also shows what appear to be the tail wings of two J-15s in the hangar deck.
Chinese media have consistently reported that the new carrier would be used primarily as a training platform and “to practice how to integrate with a combined task force,” said Gary Li, an analyst at U.K.-based Executive Analysis. Whether real aircraft or mock-ups, the presence of the planes on the ship indicates the Chinese are likely already — at the very minimum — practicing plane-handling techniques on the first-of-its-kind carrier.
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