The recent voyage by the Chinese aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait was a normal scheduled operation and not a response to a US destroyer’s journey through the same waters, military analysts said.
The Shandong passed through the waters on Sunday, a day after the USS Mustin’s transit, but one observer said the logistical challenges of putting a carrier to sea meant it would be impossible to do so with just a day’s notice.
Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at Taiwan‘s Naval Academy in Kaohsiung, said: “It’s impossible for the PLA to specifically arrange for the Shandong aircraft carrier to sail through the Taiwan Strait just one day after the American destroyer passed by.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
“It’s likely that the Shandong aircraft carrier is going to join with the Type 075 amphibious assault dock, which is already in the [waters] near Hainan, and other warships to form a strike group for training.”
Military observers in Beijing and Taipei said the Shandong is sailing to the South China Sea for naval training because good weather in the south will enable the navy to carry out combat drills and they believe China’s other carrier, the Liaoning, may follow its route.
Lu said temperatures near Qingdao, the carriers’ home port, had dropped below zero, meaning it was unsafe for aircraft to take off and land on deck.
Beijing-based military analyst Zhou Chenming also noted that the Sea of Bohai, the nearest waters to Qingdao, were not big enough for carrier exercises.
“The combat radius for carrier-borne J-15 fighters is over 1,000km now, which means once it takes off from the deck in Bohai Sea, the aircraft will almost reach Japanese territory,” Zhou said.
He also said the only other way to reach the South China Sea was to sail through the Miyako Strait and the decision to cross the Taiwan Strait was a question of choosing to follow the “safe and convenient” route and “nothing to do with the USS Mustin”.
The Shandong joined the PLA navy last year and is expected to reach initial operational capability, the basic level of combat readiness, as early as the start of next year.
Recent footage from state broadcaster China Central Television showed that at least two dozen of new variants of the J-15 have taken off and landed on the deck of Shandong.
The video also showed the ship’s captain Lai Yijun and political commissar Song Wenjun playing “carrier chess”, using small models of the planes to track and coordinate their movements to ensure they can fly safely even if the computer system goes down.
This article China’s Shandong aircraft carrier crosses Taiwan Strait a day after USS Mustin first appeared on South China Morning Post