Combat role nears for aircraft carrier, say experts

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China's first aircraft carrier could soon be accompanied by destroyers and frigates to form an aircraft carrier fleet with combat abilities, Chinese military officials and experts said yesterday.

China's first aircraft carrier held a flag-raising ceremony yesterday, amid rising tensions over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

China's first aircraft carrier held a flag-raising ceremony yesterday, amid rising tensions over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

The Liaoning held a flag-raising ceremony on Sunday afternoon in an indication that the day for its official commissioning was fast approaching.

The ceremony came as tensions with Japan rose over the Diaoyu Islands.

"China will have more variable ways, both strong and soft, to solve the disputes in the East and South China seas," Qiao Liang, an air force major general, said yesterday.

Li Jie, a researcher with the China Navy Military Academy, also said the aircraft carrier would play an important role in China's handling of island disputes and safeguarding its maritime interests.

China's newly developed 052D missile destroyers will be the most suitable company for the aircraft carrier, said Hu Siyuan, a professor with the National Defense University PLA China.

The 160-meter-long destroyer is equipped with 130 millimeter caliber cannon and has two vertical launch systems to set off Redflag-9B missiles.

Hu said the destroyer is similar to the US Aegis-level destroyers in fighting ability and more powerful than the Japanese navy's major warships.

Meanwhile, the Jiang Kai-II frigate which has a helicopter pad, may also join the carrier fleet. The No. 88 ship that accompanied the carrier during its sea trials is expected to be its depot ship.

China's J-15 fighters that analysts say are match for US F-18 Hornet fighters would probably be used on the carrier. Many photographs have been published that show the plane on the carrier's deck.

The carrier will also be equipped with a defense system able to launch attacks on missiles, aircraft and approaching vessels, experts have said.

A US aircraft carrier is normally accompanied by two missile cruisers, two frigates, two nuclear-driven submarines and a depot ship.

"The carrier will be most probably under the direct orders of the Chinese Navy headquarters rather than by the major Navy forces and be commissioned in different sea territories of China," Hu said.

China has three major Naval forces - the East China Sea, North China Sea and South China Sea fleets. Li has also said the vessel could be commissioned in different fleets.

The nation's first carrier, refitted from former Ukraine vessel Varyag, left port on August 10 last year for its first sea trials and since then has regularly been successfully tested in both the Yellow and Bohai seas.

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