China's two aircraft carriers conduct exercises together for 1st time

China's aircraft carriers train for 'possible reunification-by-force operations on the island of Taiwan'

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Liaoning (top), Shandong (bottom). (China Network Television screenshots)

Liaoning (top), Shandong (bottom). (China Network Television screenshots)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — China's state-run media reports that the communist autocracy's two aircraft carriers conducted simultaneous military exercises at sea for the first time.

China's state-run mouthpiece the Global Times boasted that the exercises will enable China to deploy a dual carrier combat group, which could be used for "possible reunification-by-force operations on the island of Taiwan," as well as "resistance against US provocations in the South China Sea."

Chinese government-published Modern Ships magazine cited foreign commercial satellite images as showing that the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN) first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has recently departed from its base in Qingdao for military drills. As early as Sept. 1, ship spotters reported the Liaoning and China's second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, heading out of their ports for training missions, while that same day Twitter user Navy Recognition reported that J-15 fighters from the Liaoning were conducting live-fire exercises.

Hong Kong-based wenweipo.com reported that the Shandong had departed from a shipyard on Sept. 1 and was headed toward the Bohai Sea to carry out exercises. Also that day, Chinese Twitter user Jimmy Chan posted satellite imagery purportedly showing the Liaoning sailing in the Yellow Sea.

According to Modern Ships, this was the first time that China's two aircraft carriers have conducted simultaneous exercises at sea since the Shandong was commissioned in Dec. 2019. Global Times cited a Chinese military expert as claiming that it is only a matter of time before the "PLA Navy gains the capability to simultaneously operate two carriers in multiple approaches, including a dual carrier combat group."

The expert claimed that the two carriers combined will provide the PLAN a "significant boost in efficiency and capability," especially for the deployment of fighter jets. He added that even if the two ships do not cross paths this time, it is a major step toward a "true dual carrier era" for the PLAN.

The Global Times then sited Chinese naval expert Li Jie as claiming that the two carriers are operating at a time when China has been "facing military pressure from countries like the US in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea." The expert then mentioned India as a possible threat to China's maritime transport lanes.

Li then bragged that the two aircraft carriers can "squeeze the island of Taiwan from different angles," while the DF-21D and DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missiles can "lock down the island and deny possible US intervention."

He added that they can play a crucial role in protecting important transport lanes such as the Strait of Malacca, which China has been seeking to bypass with a canal through Thailand. However, as the Southeast Asian kingdom most recently appears to favor railway, China will probably continue to focus on the strait as another important strategic waterway.

The appearance of the two carriers in September represents a slight delay from the original plan of having the two deployed simultaneously to support war games in August. In addition, the location of their deployment is closer to their bases in the Bohai Sea and the Yellow Sea, rather than passing near the Dongsha Islands as had been reported by the Alibaba-owned South China Morning Post in May.