China has stepped up preparation of its aircraft carrier’s fighting force, with a new batch of carrier-based fighter pilots graduating this month.
The People’s Liberation Army has built up its largest carrier-based pilot team after more than three years of intensive training, the PLA Daily reported in a front-page article on Tuesday.
The news comes on the back of a report in Jane’s Defence Weekly last week that China’s first home-built Type 001A aircraft carrier was now largely complete, with just an aircraft elevator, superstructure and some deck sections left to be finished.
The images were from Airbus Defence and Space, a division of the Airbus Group, a European multinational aerospace and defence corporation.
The article did not say how many carrier-based fighter jet pilots graduated but highlighted that they were all classmates of Zhang Chao, a 29-year old PLA pilot who died when his J-15 fighter jet crashed during a simulated landing at an inland base in April.
The navy suspended all J-15 training flights for nearly two months after Zhang’s death, which was reported by state media after the training resumed last month.
The PLA Daily said the pilots all trained on China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier for the most challenging night-time take-offs and landings.
The military mouthpiece’s article – which comes after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled against Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea on July 12 – signals China’s push to build up its aircraft carrier fighting group.
Satellite images showed that in addition to the 001A carrier, production of its key partner, the Type 052D guided-missile destroyers, is also being accelerated, according to Jane’s.