China lands jet on its first aircraft carrier
By EDWARD WONG
The New York Times | November 26,2012
BEIJING — The Chinese military has successfully landed a fighter jet on the Liaoning, China’s first seaworthy aircraft carrier, according to a report on Sunday by Xinhua, the state news agency.
China Central Television showed video of the jet, the J-15, landing on the deck of the carrier, which was put into service in September after years of construction work. The video also showed the jet, which is painted yellow with the number 552 written in red beneath the cockpit, successfully taking off from the carrier.
Many Chinese and foreigners see the Liaoning as a symbol of China’s military modernization and its desire to extend its combat capacity.
But the carrier will not be combat-ready for some time, and foreign military analysts say China’s military abilities and budget still lag far behind those of the United States, which is China’s greatest rival for influence in the western Pacific.
China bought the carrier years ago from Ukraine, where it had been called the Varyag. The Xinhua report said the carrier had undergone a series of “sailing and technological tests” since Sept. 25, when it was formally put into service by the People’s Liberation Army, whose navy is modernizing more rapidly than any other military branch. Xinhua said the carrier had completed more than 100 training and test programs.
The report said the J-15 jet was designed and made in China and is the nation’s “first generation multipurpose carrier-borne fighter jet.” It is able to carry anti-ship, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, as well as precision-guided bombs, Xinhua reported. The jet is comparable to Russia’s Su-33 and the United States’ F-18, according to Xinhua.
For years, the threat of hostilities in the Taiwan Strait drove much of the Chinese navy’s modernization plans, and the risk of a conflict there involving both U.S. and Taiwanese forces occupies a singular place in Chinese military strategy and planning.
But Chinese civilian leaders and generals are also focused these days on the rising tensions with neighboring nations over disputed territory. This autumn, tensions with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands, which the Japanese administer and call the Senkakus, rose sharply when the Japanese government announced that it was buying the islands.
There have also been diplomatic and maritime clashes with Vietnam and the Philippines over territory in the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil, gas and fish. Several Southeast Asian nations dispute Chinese and Taiwanese claims to large parts of the South China Sea.
Foreign military officials and analysts are carefully watching China’s development of other warfare technology, including an anti-ship ballistic missile. Analysts said such a missile would give the Chinese military greater “area-denial” abilities, meaning it could help keep foreign ships, particularly aircraft carriers, outside of nearby combat zones.
Last Friday, Xi Jinping, the new Communist Party chief and civilian head of the military, made his first promotion on the army’s general staff. He promoted Wei Fenghe, commander of the 2nd Artillery Corps, to full general at a ceremony in Beijing. Wei’s unit is based in Sichuan province and oversees China’s nuclear arsenal. The promotion might have been a sign that Xi is moving quickly to try to build a base of support within the military.
Xi served as a civilian vice chairman of the Central Military Commission in recent years and has personal ties to some influential generals who come from prominent Communist Party families.