Wed, Dec 21, 2011 - Page 3 News List

First Chinese aircraft carrier might soon embark on its third trial at sea

By J. Michael Cole  /  Staff Reporter

China’s Liaoning Air Police on Monday issued a navigational warning for a zone northwest of the Bohai Sea, east of Dalian, where the country’s first aircraft carrier is berthed, amid reports that the refurbished Soviet-era vessel could soon embark on a third sea trial.

The 60,000 tonne Kuznetsov-class Varyag returned to Dalian Port on Dec. 11 after completing a 13-day sea trial, its second since the carrier was officially unveiled to the world.

According to Chinese media, People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) pilots conducted a series of low-altitude flybys on carrier-based J-15 aircraft, but no landing on deck was attempted. PLAN pilots have no experience performing difficult landings on an aircraft carrier and have been using concrete structures on land to practice on.

Military analysts are saying that as Beijing does not want to unnecessarily endanger its first aircraft carrier — designated as a strategic weapon and which will fall under direct command of the Central Military Commission rather than the PLAN — it will take its time before attempting landings on its deck.

Defense publications have also speculated that Russia has so far refused to sell to China the arrestor cables necessary for aircraft to land on the carrier.

Reports say problems identified during the carrier’s first trial had been addressed and resolved during the second.

Chinese media yesterday said the Varyag could “soon” embark on its third sea trial.

Quoting military enthusiasts at Dalian, the reports said the Varyag was docked at the pier and that “faint smoke” was emanating from the vessel, a sign that the engines were running.

In addition, the life rafts had not been removed and weapons systems were not covered by protective sheeting, reports said.

Unnamed sources said landings could be attempted during the third sea trial. No date has been given yet for the operation.

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