China has officially confirmed that its new aircraft carrier will be used for training and scientific research, and that naval pilot training is underway.
"China is making use of an old aircraft carrier platform for scientific research, experiments and training," said the defence ministry. "As an important part of the research and training programme, training for aircraft pilots is also in progress."
The ministry gave no indication as to when the ship, the former Ukrainian vessel Varyag, will make its maiden voyage, but said refitting continues in Dalian harbour. It also provided no mention of when the carrier, obtained in the 1990s, will begin flight operations.
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China has developed a navalised fighter known as the Shenyang J-15, a copy of Russia's 1980s-era Sukhoi Su-33. Chinese media reports have suggested that Kamov Ka-31 helicopters will provide China's carrier with a rudimentary airborne early warning and control capability.
The carrier could operate up to 30 aircraft, which would provide China with a potent capability.