China has certified its first pilots and deck crew for aircraft carrier operations, following a 25-day training deployment by the nation's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.
During the cruise, pilots "executed several continuous take-off and landing exercises, making China one of the few countries in the world that can train its own carrier-borne jet pilots", according to a statement on China's defence ministry website.
The certifications were awarded to five pilots and an unstated number of landing signal officers, after they were tested on skills related to the operation of fixed-wing aircraft from a warship.
The aircraft used in the exercise - the Shenyang J-15 - is based on Russia's Sukhoi Su-33, although Beijing has claimed that the J-15 is based on Chinese-developed technologies.
In late 2012, Beijing mounted a public relations campaign around the first flights from the Liaoning, which was originally built by the Soviet Union as the Varyag. China has said that it intends to use the vessel primarily to train pilots and sailors for carrier operations, as well as to develop carrier doctrine.
In April, a senior Chinese navy official said that Beijing plans to have an aircraft carrier that is larger and can carry more aircraft than the Liaoning. "The next aircraft carrier we need will be larger and carry more fighters," said Song Xue, deputy chief of staff.
Song added that Beijing's future carriers will embark not only fighters, but "reconnaissance aircraft, anti-submarine aircraft, electronic countermeasures planes, and rotary-wing aircraft". A composite air wing such as this demands a carrier with catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) capability. The only nations that operate such warships are the USA, France and Brazil.
The Liaoning is a short take-off but arrested recovery carrier, which limits its air wing to fighter aircraft and helicopters. Airborne early warning and control system aircraft such as the US Navy's Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye and other essential support aircraft require a ship that has CATOBAR capability.