China: PLA Navy moving ahead with first indigenous aircraft carrier sea trials
While the COVID-19 pandemic might have slowed down the modernisation and procurement plans of Armed Forces across the globe, China People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is moving forward with sea trials of its first indigenous aircraft carrier, the Shandong.
These trials were initially disrupted and delayed by the pandemic, but are now going on as business as usual.
The carrier was commissioned in December last year and is loosely based on the Liaoning – China’s first aircraft carrier – which is was based on an ex-soviet model.
The trials, as per the Dalian Maritime Safety Administration’s notice would be conducted in the northern part of the Yellow Sea.
As per the notice, Shandong’s homeport of Dalian would be cordoned off for a week, following 22nd May. These sea trials remain crucial for a number of reasons.
The PLA Navy is on a steep learning curve. The PLA navy, though has been operating Liaoning since 2012, has faced several problems in carrying out aircraft carrier maritime operations. For instance, the PLA Navy has reportedly faced a shortage of jet pilots with the necessary training for carrier borne operations. The lack of trained pilots combined with a series of accidents onboard of Liaoning has further delayed the expansion of PLA Navy’s aircraft carrier fleet.
The sea trials comes at critical time with deteriorating US-China relations and increasing tensions in the South China Sea and the Taiwan strait.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s second term re-election – which coincides with the passing of a controversial national security law in China and the resulting unrest in Hong Kong – further complicates the regional cross-strait and choke-point dynamics thus calling for a PLA Navy posturing in the region.
President Tsai has announced that Taiwan will welcome citizens of Hong Kong fleeing the city state amid fear for the new national security legislation.
Recent statements by US President Donald Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have further ignited tensions with Beijing.
In the meanwhile, the US Navy’s Indo-Pacific command has reportedly deployed the USS McCampbell to patrol the strait as part of its routine freedom of navigation operations to support the Taiwanese territorial water sovereignty.
The PLA Navy, in a show of force in the key region, is now reportedly working on a joint maritime exercise and war games involving both its aircraft carriers near Taiwanese territorial waters and testing its carrier battle group integration and coordination capabilities in August this year.
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