The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

China’s one and only air­craft car­rier, the Liaon­ing, set sail again re­cently to test a rou­tine but im­por­tant ma­neu­ver: air­craft take­off from its deck and a com­pletely stopped land­ing back on deck.

This step ap­pears to be tech­ni­cally daunt­ing for Chi­nese pi­lots. Since its com­mis­sion­ing in late Septem­ber, China’s mul­ti­tude of In­ter­net users have roundly ridiculed the Liaon­ing for its in­abil­ity to do what air­craft car­ri­ers are de­signed to do: launch and land at­tack air­craft.

The lack of pi­lot skills for the ma­neu­ver was not the only ma­te­rial amus­ing skep­tics. For months, the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army’s (PLA) navy could not even de­cide on the type of fixed-wing air­craft to be de­ployed with the Liaon­ing.

A widely spec­u­lated choice is China’s J-15 stealth fighter jet, which ap­pears to be a knock­off ver­sion of Rus­sia’s Sukhoi Su-33 that in­cludes a few Chi­nese fighter fea­tures and avion­ics.

Three weeks ago, the Liaon­ing re­port­edly con­ducted touch-and-go ma­neu­vers that in­volved jets con­duct­ing non­stop land­ings and take­offs on the deck.

The stop-and-go ma­neu­ver is stan­dard car­rier-pi­lot train­ing and re­quires far more than pi­lot skills and co­or­di­na­tion with car­rier deck crews. The rea­son: Land­ing jets must use ar­rest­ing ca­bles on the deck that catch an air­craft’s tail hook.

Re­ports from the re­gion say China had been un­able to pro­duce the highly so­phis­ti­cated ar­rest­ing ca­bles, which re­quire pre­cise strength and flex­i­bil­ity that en­able skilled op­er­a­tors to ap­ply the ex­act amount of ten­sion on the ca­ble dur­ing the land­ing ma­neu­ver.

If suc­cess­ful, stop-and-go ma­neu­vers will mark a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward in China’s car­rier pro­gram. It’s some­thing that has been done for decades by de­vel­oped naval pow­ers

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