Here’s why China does not have the World's Largest Navy, in any Meaningful Metric

Chinese Liaoning carrier strike group conducts exercise simulating attacks on Japan’s Nansei Islands

By Dario Leone
Dec 23 2022
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A Chinese carrier strike group involving the aircraft carrier Liaoning and Type 055 missile destroyers has been conducting drills that simulate attacks on Japan’s Nansei Islands since Dec. 16, 2022.

Chinese government sources told The Yomiuri Shimbun that a Chinese carrier strike group involving the aircraft carrier Liaoning and Type 055 missile destroyers has been conducting drills that simulate attacks on Japan’s Nansei Islands since Dec. 16, 2022.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is said to have instructed the military to start the drills on the day the Japanese government unveiled three major defense-related documents.

The exercise scheduled to end on Dec. 26 features a unit operating in the western Pacific south of Okinawa Prefecture led by the Chinese Navy’s aircraft carrier Liaoning.

The sources said the exercises also involve Type 055 missile destroyers — advanced vessels capable of ground attacks.

China will reportedly conduct long-range strike drills from waters in the western Pacific, simulating missile launches targeting islands in the Nansei chain, on which Japan is considering deploying missiles. Ship-borne aircraft have already started night landing and takeoff drills.

The Chinese military’s carrier strike group usually holds annual winter exercises around December. This year, Xi designated a start date.

According to Alert 5, the Japanese government approved three national security documents that outlined the reasoning behind Japan’s shift away from an exclusively defensive posture and for doubling defense spending. The three documents are: National Security Strategy (NSS), National Defense Strategy (previously called the National Defense Program Guidelines), Defense Capability Enhancement Plan (previously called the Medium-Term Defense Program).

The carrier strike group, which included the Liaoning and other vessels, was confirmed by the Japanese Defense Ministry to have passed between Okinawa and Miyako islands and entered the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 16. The group sailed 260 kilometers west-southwest of Okidaito Island the following day and was seen 450 kilometers east-northeast of Kitadaito Island on Dec. 20. It was possible, from this location, for ship-borne aircraft to reach the Nansei chain in a time frame of 5 to 10 minutes. Approximately 130 takeoffs and landings by ship-borne aircraft and helicopters were reportedly conducted during the drills.

Strategic bombers will also simulate a pincer attack on Taiwan from the east and west during the drills, according to the sources.

According to the US Defense Department, the Chinese military has adopted a strategy of active defense, which could lead to a preemptive strike on an adversary if Beijing believes it is about to be attacked.

The acquisition of counterattack capabilities is stated in Japan’s security documents and the Xi administration is wary of a large Japanese deployment of missiles on the Nansei Islands.

The Chinese government sources said the aim of the exercises is to undermine Japan’s security strategy against China.

According to the Chinese Defense Ministry, the Chinese Navy also began joint exercises with the Russian Navy off Zhoushan, Zhejiang Province, on Wednesday. The ministry said the exercises will include anti-submarine and maritime blockade drills.

The Chinese, in the last decade, grew its capabilities of sustaining operations far from the mainland in its operations in the Gulf of Aden, as well as quickly learned how to integrate new capabilities across its joint forces.

As already reported, a clear photo of People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force’s (PLANAF) J-35 carrier-capable stealth fighter appeared on Chinese social media in July.

Designed by Shenyang, the twin engine aircraft will be flown by the PLANAF from China’s future Type-003 Fujian-class aircraft carriers.

Although most open sources call it “J-35” or “J-XY, the official designation of China’s new twin-engine stealth fighter aircraft is not known yet, some even calls it a variant of the FC-31. A full-size mock-up of the stealth plane first appeared in June 2021 on a full-sized mock-up of a real Chinese Navy aircraft carrier, located at Wuhan land-based testing facility.

As told above, the aircraft will be operated from the Type-003 Fujian-class aircraft carriers the first of which was launched in June. The Type-003 is China’s biggest most modern and most powerful aircraft carrier. As reported by News18, at 80,000 tons and 318 meters, the Fujian is named after the Chinese province that sits across from Taiwan.

Unlike Liaoning and Shandong, the other two PLAN aircraft carriers, that feature a ski jump (a ramp at the bow of the ship that helps jets take off from the carrier’s short runway), Fujian is reported to have electromagnetic aircraft launch systems (EMALS).

The ski jump launches are extremely restrictive as they impose big constraints on the size, weight and payload of the aircraft being launched. Instead EMALS’ main advantage is that it accelerates the aircraft more smoothly, putting less stress on their airframes. Furthermore, it weighs and costs less and also requires less maintenance than a steam piston-driven system. It also reduces the carrier’s requirement for fresh water, thus reducing the demand for energy-intensive desalination. Most US carriers have steam-driven catapults except the new USS Gerald Ford class.

Clear Photo Of People's Liberation Army Navy Air Force’s J-35 Carrier-Capable Stealth Fighter appears on Chinese social media
PLANAF J-35 carrier-capable stealth fighter

Photo credit: U.S. Navy and Weibo

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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