China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has embarked on its first open-sea voyage, travelling between Japan’s main island of Okinawa and Miyakojima island on its way to the Pacific Ocean. The carrier is part of a six-vessel fleet that includes three destroyers and two frigates.
The mission is likely a strategic move in Chinese efforts to secure air and maritime superiority along the so-called Second Island Chain. China considers both the first and second island chains as its defence lines.
The Liaoning is a refurbished carrier purchased from Ukraine and commissioned by the Chinese Navy in 2012. In mid-December, a fleet led by the Liaoning held live-shell drills in waters near China.
The administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping is racing to increase the carrier’s operations because it wants to push its Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy forward to block US military intervention in case of an emergency.
China is expected to launch its first domestically constructed aircraft carrier next year, while a second is thought to be under construction. China’s future plans are believed to include a number of carrier battle groups like those operated by the United States.
Chinese military force is now extending into an area from the East China Sea to the Western Pacific, prompting growing concern in Japan.
“It shows an expansion of China’s maritime capabilities,” Cabinet chief Yoshihide Suga said in response to the Liaoning’s mission. “We should enhance our vigilance and monitoring activities.”
During the latest operation, Japanese Air Self-Defence Force (ASDF) fighter-jets scrambled after a surveillance helicopter took off from one of the Chinese frigates accompanying the carrier passed through the Miyako Strait between Okinawa and Miyakojima. There was no intrusion into Japanese territory, but Tokyo must nevertheless respond to provocations and also prepare for unforeseen situations.
In just the first half of this year, the ASDF scrambled about 600 times, mostly to counter approaching Chinese aircraft. In March, the Defence Ministry deployed a coastal observation unit on Yonagunijima Island in Okinawa Prefecture and started using ground radar to gather intelligence about foreign warships and aircraft.
Tokyo’s 2017 budget proposal features more money for ASDF radar sites on Miyakojima and on Kagoshima Prefecture’s Okinoerabujima Island, as well as for construction of an advanced submarine.
In August Japan picked Lockheed’s state-of-the-art F-35 stealth fighter-jets as its next generation of fighter aircraft. They will join Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft and P-1 maritime patrol aircraft in providing a new line of defence in a rapidly changing geo-political global landscape.
Published : December 29, 2016
By : The Yomiuri Shimbun Asia News Network