ASIA PIVOT: Chinese Aircraft Carrier Program Progressing Substantially Into the New Year.

The country’s sole carrier, the refurbished Soviet-era Kuznetsov-class ship, now renamed the Liaoning, was declared “combat ready” in November by Senior Capt. Li Dongyou, the political commissar onboard the ship as it departed for a training cruise that included a stopover at the purpose-built pier at the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) base near Sanya on Hainan island on the edge of the South China Sea.

The ship sailed with a battle group comprising of several PLAN destroyers, frigates and corvettes, while the Liaoning itself carried more than a dozen Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark carrier-borne fighters and several Harbin Z-9 and Changhe Z-18 helicopters onboard, including at least two Z-18J airborne early warning (AEW) helicopters.

Meanwhile, the same shipyard at Dalian that refurbished the Liaoning is building China’s second carrier. Known for now as the 001A — the Liaoning was designated the Type 001 — the new carrier is broadly similar to the Liaoning and retains the ski jump for launching aircraft, but contains a revised flight deck arrangement and other differences.

China’s carriers are vulnerable, outdated, and carry an almost pitiably-small aircraft complement. But the lessons China is learning about training, doctrine, and operations are priceless.