China's first aircraft carrier Shi Lang, Currently on its maiden voyage, is widely expected to have its shipborne fighter jets conduct simulated landing trials Saturday, after a navigation ban and radio control notice was put in place.
The landing trials will go ahead if weather conditions allow, but fighters will take off as soon as they approach the ship instead of actually landing, a source close to the trial told the Global Times Friday.
The source also revealed that the jets to be used in the tests are J-15s, a domestically made heavy fighter, dubbed the People's Liberation Army navy's "Flying Shark."
The trials are aimed mainly at testing the radar system and optical landing system of the aircraft carrier, which left its shipyard in northeastern Dalian and began its first five-day journey on Wednesday, the source said.
Pictures shot by aviation enthusiasts earlier show the J-15, which reportedly made its maiden flight on August 31, 2009, featuring enlarged folding wings and twin nose wheels.
"It's not easy to land on a moving vessel, so we will actively conduct tests and trials," the source said, adding that pilots had been through intensive training to prepare for the trial.
However, Xu Yongling, deputy chief of staff at an air force station and a former J-10 fighter test pilot, downplayed the possibility.
"The platform is still not sufficient for such trials, as both the equipment and personnel are still not ready for it," Xu told the Global Times Friday, noting that it would take at least another two months before flight trials can take place on the carrier.
A staff member from the press office of the Ministry of National Defense declined to make any comments to the Global Times Friday, saying it had nothing new to report about the aircraft carrier.
The Liaoning Maritime Safety Administration published a notice Wednesday restricting navigation and radio communication in an area with a radius of 17 nautical miles (31.5 kilometers) on Saturday in the northeast Bohai Sea, which has led to widespread speculation among media that fighters will be tested on the carrier.
Earlier, the authority issued a navigation ban from Wednesday to Sunday in the northern Yellow Sea and Liaoning Bay.
"Heavy shipborne fighters will boost the aircraft carrier fleet's air defense capability and enhance the fleet's strike ability," Lan Yun, editor of Modern Ships, a Beijing-based magazine, told the Global Times earlier.
"They can carry many air-to-air missiles or air-to-surface missiles and other kinds of airborne munitions," Lan said. "And they have the benefit of long combat radius."
The aircraft carrier, revamped from an old Soviet ship, the Varyag, that arrived in Dalian nine years ago, has become the focus of international concern and speculation, although China's defense ministry has stressed the carrier will be used mainly for training and research.
The US asked China to explain why it needs an aircraft carrier and to be more transparent over military development hours after the vessel set off.
"We would welcome any kind of explanation that China would like to give for needing this kind of equipment," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press conference.
"This is part of our larger concern that China is not as transparent as other countries. It's not as transparent as the US about its military acquisitions, about its military budget," she said.
Japan's defense minister Toshimi Kitazawa made similar remarks on Friday, AFP reported.
Nuland's remarks were challenged by Wen Xian, a correspondent with People's Daily in Washington.
"Is China's aircraft carrier stealth or mini-sized? You know it is there, how could you say it is not transparent?" Wen contested, according to a report published by People's Daily Friday.
"In the last 10 years, the US military expenditure has grown faster than China's and its defense budget was above $600 billion. With such an advantageous situation, why is the US still so concerned with China's weaponry and defense expenditure?" Wen said, adding that the US already has 14 aircraft carriers.
Nuland declined to reply, saying, "As for the comparison of the military budget and the number of aircraft carriers, I think you'd better ask the defense agency."
Nuland's answers fully displayed Washington's "arrogance and rudeness," the report said.
Major General Huang Guozhu, editor-in-chief of the top military newspaper PLA Daily, called on Chinese people to remain calm in the face of other countries' remarks.
"The imperialists have been arrogant and rude, but it is not necessary to be angry about it," Huang said in an opinion piece published on the newspaper's website Thursday.
"Peaceful development is our country's long-term strategy. Even if we have more aircraft careers, we will not invade other countries or dominate the world," Huang noted.
US aircraft carrier, the USRonald Reagan, and its three support ships arrived in Hong Kong on Friday, marking the start of her fourth port visit there, Xinhua reported.
At the press conference held on the carrier, its commanding officer Capt. Thom Burke said, "We are excited to have this opportunity to visit this fine city of Hong Kong, and we are looking forward to experiencing the culture and continuing to build ties in the community."
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