China’s aircraft carriers tipped to team up to target foreign forces aiding Taiwan

The Liaoning is China’s first aircraft carrier. Photo: Felix Wong. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

BEIJING, Dec 19, 2019, SCMP. China’s new aircraft carrier is likely to team up with its sister ship to form a dual-carrier battle group to cut off foreign military access to Taiwan during a war, according to a military magazine and defence specialists, South China Morning Post reported.

Instead of fighting alone, the Shandong, which was commissioned on Tuesday, would work with the Liaoning, a refitted Soviet Kuznetsov-class vessel, to create a more powerful combination to block US or Japanese vessels from reaching the island if they went to the aid independence-leaning forces on Taiwan, the Beijing-based Naval and Merchant Ships monthly magazine reported on Tuesday.

“[Another major] task of the [battle group’s aircraft] is to stop US long-range bombers from taking off from a naval base in Guam. This would be to prevent American aircraft targeting the PLA’s landing transport formations and Chinese submarines,” it said.

Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province that must be unified with the mainland by force, if necessary.

In addition to the Liaoning and Shandong, the dual-carrier group will include two Type 055 guided-missile destroyers, the region’s most advanced destroyer; four Type 054 frigates; six guided-missile frigates, as well as one supply ship and three Type 093B nuclear submarines, according to the report.

Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said a dual-carrier group would help the People’s Liberation Army extend its combat range from the coast of mainland China to the air-sea domains around Taiwan.

“Blocking the US and Japanese fleets’ access to Taiwan is the PLA’s [main] mission,” Song said.

“However, in order to take supreme advantage in sea and air domains, the PLA needs to coordinate not only the dual-carrier battle group, but also joint operations between different combat units, such as the rocket force, amphibious troops and other service groups.”

Beijing-based military specialist Zhou Chenming agreed, saying a dual-carrier battle group would give the PLA a “bigger shield” and allow it to fend off any foreign fleets intent on intervening in Taiwan.

“Together the two aircraft carriers would be able to launch nearly 30 carrier-based J-15 fighter jets to target any warplanes from American carrier strike groups, which would effectively reduce the numerical strength [of the American forces],” Zhou said.

“But a dual-carrier battle group is purely a defensive combat formation – it’s not powerful enough to make a strike on other countries in the region, especially when dealing with the American carrier combat groups.”

He said Beijing saw Taiwan as one of its “core national interests”, and would “spare no effort to maintain its territory integrity if Taiwan takes real action to declare independence”.

In addition to Taiwan, the Shandong would focus on the disputed waters of the South China Sea, much of which Beijing claims, according to a commentary published on Wednesday by the social media account affiliated with Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

“The aircraft strike group headed by the Shandong will be deployed to the South China Sea. It is very likely that it will have face-to-face encounters with foreign military vessels,” it said. “The Shandong is designed to achieve domination of both the air and sea.”

Song added that the dual-carrier battle group would also help the PLA to gain military superiority in the South China Sea, which is also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Minnie Chan is an award-winning journalist, specialising in reporting on defence and diplomacy in China.

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