Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong holds drills in South China Sea

According to information published by Global Times on August 26, 2022, the Shandong, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy's second aircraft carrier and the first domestically built, recently held comprehensive drills in the South China Sea in a group consisting of full combat elements, which analysts said showed the carrier is becoming ready for far sea operations.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 Chinese PLANavy's aircraft carrier Shandong conducts realistic combat-oriented exercises in the South China Sea (Picture source: Chinese MoD)

The aircraft carrier Shandong conducted realistic combat-oriented exercises in an undisclosed area in the South China Sea in early autumn to comprehensively test the force's combat capabilities, the PLA South Sea Fleet said in a press release on Wednesday.

During the drills, the Shandong hosted takeoff and landing operations of J-15 carrier-based fighter jets, and practiced replenishment-at-sea operations, according to the press release.

A video attached to the press release showed that the aircraft carrier maneuvered in a combat group featuring a Type 055 large destroyer, a Type 052D destroyer, a Type 054A frigate, and a Type 901 comprehensive supply ship.

This means the Shandong practiced in a flotilla consisting of full combat elements, and such a carrier combat group configuration is basically the same as the one that would be used in a real operation, a Chinese military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Thursday.

Previously, the aircraft carrier Liaoning, the PLA Navy's first aircraft carrier, led a group reportedly consisting of Type 055 large destroyer, three Type 052D destroyers, a Type 052C destroyer, a Type 054A frigate, and a Type 901 comprehensive supply ship for a far sea exercise in the West Pacific in May.

In comparison, the Liaoning carrier group featured more vessels, but the Shandong carrier group generally has all those ship types, namely the large destroyer, destroyer, frigate, and supply ship. As the Shandong further gains capabilities, more ships will join the group, the expert said.

Generally speaking, a nuclear-powered attack submarine would also be part of an aircraft carrier group, the expert noted.

The Shandong reportedly underwent maintenance earlier this year at the shipyard where it was built. It is now ready for far sea operations, analysts said.

As China's first domestically built aircraft carrier and the second one overall, the Shandong entered service with the PLA Navy on December 17, 2019 in Sanya, South China's Hainan Province.

The Shandong aircraft carrier is powered by conventional oil-fired boilers driving eight steam turbines derived from the Soviet-designed examples installed on Liaoning. It measures about 305 metres (1,001 ft) long, with a displacement of about 55,000 tonnes (66,000–70,000 loaded).

She can carry a total of 44 aircraft including 24 J-15 Fighters, three J-15D EW Electronic Warfare Fighters, six Z-18F ASW ( Anti-Surface Warfare ) Helicopter, four Z-18Y AEW&C (Airborne Early Warning and Control) Helicopter, two Z-18A VIP Transport Helicopter, one Z-8JH Medical Helicopter, and two Z-9S Rescue Helicopter.

The aircraft carrier has a crew of 2,500 to 2,625 sailors. She is a modified version of the Liaoning Type 001 Soviet-Navy Kuznetsov-class design and likewise uses a ski-jump takeoff method for its aircraft.