China Holds First Live-Fire Drills With Its Aircraft Carrier

Image: A missile being fired from the Liaoning aircraft carrier during military drills in the Bohai Sea
A missile being fired from the Liaoning aircraft carrier during military drills in the Bohai Sea.AFP - Getty Images

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/ Source: Reuters
By The Associated Press
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BEIJING — China's military has carried out its first live-fire drills using an aircraft carrier, state media said.

A missile being fired from the Liaoning aircraft carrier during military drills in the Bohai Sea.AFP - Getty Images

Dozens of ships and aircraft took part in the exercise "a few days ago" in the Bohai Sea to test weapon performance and training levels, according to a statement posted Thursday on the Defense Ministry's website.

Beijing said last month that its aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was ready to engage in combat, marking a milestone for a navy that has invested heavily in its ability to project power far from China's shores.

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The Liaoning was commissioned in 2013 after being purchased as an incomplete hull from Ukraine more than a decade ago.

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China's growing military presence in the disputed South China Sea has fueled concern, with the United States criticizing its militarization of maritime outposts and holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.

No other country has claims in the Bohai Sea, but the drills come amid new tension over self-ruled Taiwan, following President-elect Donald Trump's recent telephone call with the island's president that upset Beijing.

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The ship and jets engaged in air-to-air, air-to-sea and sea-to-air combat drills that featured guided missiles, state broadcaster Chinese Central Television reported late on Thursday.

"This is the first time an aircraft carrier squadron has performed drills with live ammunition and real troops," it said.

CCTV broadcast images of fighter jets taking off from the carrier, firing missiles and destroying a target at sea.

The Liaoning has participated in previous military exercises, including some in the South China Sea, but the country is still years off from perfecting carrier operations similar to those the United States has practiced for decades.

Chinese J-15 fighter jets waiting on the deck of the Liaoning during military drills in the Bohai Sea.STR / AFP - Getty Images

On Wednesday, a U.S. think tank said China had been installing anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems on artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Related: China Installs Weapons Systems in Disputed Waters

Last December the Defence Ministry confirmed China was building a second aircraft carrier to go with the existing vessel, but its launch date is unclear.

China keeps its aircraft carrier program a state secret, and CCTV blurred images showing the cockpit instrument panel of one aircraft involved in the Bohai Sea drills.

Beijing could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years, the Pentagon said in a report last year.

China's successful operation of the Liaoning is the first step in what state media and some military experts believe will be the deployment of domestically built carriers by 2020.