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Chinese aircraft carrier expands capabilities

China’s first aircraft carrier has completed a three week cruise during which the crew achieved several milestones.

The cruise ran from 23 October and was completed when the Liaoning returned to port on 11 November, says China’s defence ministry.

One accomplishment appears to be the launching of aircraft from “all the take-off positions” aboard the ship. Images of the Liaoning suggests she has three jet blast deflectors. Two parallel deflectors are located immediately forward of the island superstructure, while a third is located closer to the stern of the ship.

Having all three positions fully operational would allow the Liaoning to rapidly launch three Shenyang J-15 fighters off the warship’s forward ramp.

Another important first during the cruise was the disassembly and assembly of jet engines aboard the ship. Jet engine maintenance is a crucial element of maintaining an effective carrier air wing. US aircraft carriers have extensive facilities for engine maintenance.

A major advantage of US Navy carriers is their ability to receive jet engines aboard Northrop Grumman C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery (COD) aircraft. Aircraft such as the C-2, however, require a catapult to launch from a carrier, which precludes their use aboard carriers such as the Liaoning that use a ramp.

The defence ministry adds that the Liaoning’s cruise also saw more flight deck crews qualified for operations.

The defence ministry, however, made no mention about whether the Liaoning had attempted to launch or recover fighters at night.