China upbeat on aircraft carrier feat

Ananth Krishnan
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A carrier-borne J-15 fighter jet on China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning in this photo made available on Sunday.— PHOTO: AP/Xinhua
A carrier-borne J-15 fighter jet on China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning in this photo made available on Sunday.— PHOTO: AP/Xinhua

A day after China announced that it had conducted successful landing exercises on its first aircraft carrier — a landmark for its naval ambitions — state media mourned a senior engineer who died during the weekend’s key tests.

Luo Yang, head of production of J-15 fighter — a new jet used in the exercises on board the Liaoning aircraft carrier — died on Sunday after experiencing cardiac arrest, while participating in flight landing training, state media reported. The successful exercises were, on Sunday, hailed by media outlets as a landmark achievement for the Chinese Navy as it prepares to deploy its first aircraft carrier.

Mr. Luo’s death, however, cast a shadow on the feat. While official news outlets mourned the engineer as a national hero who sacrificed his life for the country, internet users expressed concern over the immense pressure placed on scientists by the Chinese system.

Mr. Luo had played a key role in the production of the J-15, and was also involved in tests on board the Liaoning in recent weeks. The state-run Xinhua news agency reported that the J-15 jet had been delivered to the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in September, following which it had taken part in take-off and landing tests.

The PLAN is now capable of deploying fighter jets on the carrier, Vice Admiral Zhang Yongyi told Xinhua on Monday, adding that pilots had mastered key skills to ensure the success of the take-off and the landing, especially under unfavourable conditions such as poor visibility and unstable airflow.

Vice Admiral Zhang described the exercises as similar to dancing on a knifepoint.

The PLAN said five J-15 fighter jets had taken part in the tests. The jets, whose design is thought to be based on the Russian Sukhoi Su-33, was capable of carrying multi-type anti-ship, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, Xinhua reported.

The official media said the success was a fitting response to some foreign observers who had cast doubt on China’s aircraft carrier plans.

Military enthusiasts should have every reason to hail the achievement, Lan Yun, a naval expert, told the usually nationalistic Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper.

“From now on”, he said, “China owns its complete carrier system”.

Wu Xiaoguang, an engineer at the aircraft carrier project, told Xinhua that Liaoning only marked the first step in the ambitious plans to build a blue-water navy.

“What I can tell you now”, he said, “is that the Liaoning is only a beginning”.

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