In the most publicized PLA Navy modernization event of 2012, after a year of extensive sea trials, China commissioned its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in September 2012. On 25 September 2012, it was reported that the aircraft carrier formerly known as the Varyag had entered operational service, primarily as a training platform with no assigned aircraft, as the Liaoning. However, official statements said that the vessel would also help China defend its interests. This name was said to be in reference to the province where the ship was refitted and refurbished after being purchased from Ukraine. The PLA Navy successfully conducted its first launch and recovery of the carrier-capable J-15 fighter on November 26, 2012.
China's first aircraft carrier held its first sea trial on Wednesday, 10 August 2011. Officials said the trial was on schedule and that afterwards the ship will dock for further work. The August 2009 US Office of Naval Intelligence report "The People's Liberation Army Navy: A Modern Navy With Chinese Characteristics" had stated that "This carrier is expected to become operational in the 2010 to 2012 timeframe, and will likely be used to develop basic proficiencies in carrier operations."
The ex-Varyag was acquired by China from Ukraine without engines, and must be outfitted with new engines before going out to sea. China lacks indigenous steam turbine or gas turbine engine capabilities, and absent purchase of such engines from foreign sources, the ex-Varyag would have to be equiped with marine diesel engines. Such engines are larger than turbine engines, so the ex-Varyag outfitted with marine diesel engines would be underpowered relative to the original design, and consequently slower than the original design. With a best speed in the neighborhood perhaps 20 knots [the standard speed for American amphibious ships], ex-Varyag would be considerably slower than the 30-knot standard for American aircraft carriers and escort ships. As such, ex-Varyag would seem far more suited as an aviation training ship than as a operational tactical combat unit, though it might have some combat utility under some circumstances.
Carriers can be built rather quickly, given enough money, but experienced carrier crews cannot. Continuous training is required to operate a carrier safely. Flight deck operations are a series of precise movements, and structured catapult and landing area procedures. Everything from ordinance handling to aircraft maintenance procedures differe from those for land based aircraft. During the most hazardous phase of both fixed-wing and helicopter flight operations and the launching and recovery of these aircraft, these personnel are exposed to hazards of jet intake, jet blast and propeller/rotor wash, highspeed propellers and rotors, possible arresting cable separations, and the obvious hazards associated with aircraft crashes and fires on confined flight decks at sea. Prolonged launch (takeoff) and recovery (landing) cycles may last greater than 24 consecutive hours in duration and may be accomplished in an all-weather, high paced environment, interrupted only by short periods of rest and nourishment.
In August 2016 Chinese TV boasted about the "growing combat capabilities" of its Liaoning (CV-16) aircraft carrier, noting that the battle platform can carry up to 20 fighter jets, bolstering Beijing's balance of naval and aviation power in the Pacific rim amid growing tensions. The footage revealed the Liaoning carrying eight Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) J-15 fighters, along with a Z-18 and a Z-9 helicopter, the largest number of aircraft yet seen on the carrier, suggestive of plans by China to build up its aerial presence in the Pacific Ocean. The presence of Z-18J airborne early warning (AEW) and Z-18F anti-submarine (ASW) helicopters, never before seen alongside the J-15 on the Liaoning carrier, represents a significant development in China's joint aviation and naval capabilities, likely forming a full air-wing for the carrier.
Liaoning, not Shi Lang
Jane's Fighting Ships stated that Varyag may have been named Shi Lang (hull No. 83), a name reported in 2008. In the summer of 2007, it was commissioned into the PLAN. There is no corresponding official statement.
Shi Lang (1621-96) conquered Taiwan for the Kangxi emperor in 1683, previous to which it was under the sway of a Chinese chief named Koxinga. Admiral Shi Lang served as commander-in-chief of the Qing fleet of 300 warships and 20000 troops. In the 1662-64 period, the Qing government, in order to realize national reunification, had conducted peace talks 10 times over a period of 22 years. However, due to neglect of the construction and use of naval force and under the circumstance of the lack of necessary military pressure and effective military attacking capability, the first nine peace talks all ended in failures.
In 1683, Shi Lang, the navy military governor of Fujian, led more than 20,000-men to wipe out the bandits in Taiwan by employing the strategy for the use of force of "first taking Penghu and then Taiwan" and "residing invitation to surrender in annihilation". The Manchus took possession of the island and made it a district of Fukien Province, which it remained until ceded to the Japanese in 1895. Shi Lang's military and social influence carried on growing in the decade after his conquest of Taiwan. Shi Lang in his Memorial to the Emperor on Taiwan Issue analyzed the geographical situation of Taiwan, emphasized its strategic importance to the security of the southeast coast and the whole country and expressed his determination to safeguard it and keep it within the territory of China.
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