Chinese fighter jets complete night landings on carrier, live-fire drills

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese fighter pilots have carried out night landings on the country’s first aircraft carrier, the official China Daily reported on Saturday, the latest demonstration of military muscle as Beijing’s pushes to modernize its armed forces.

Pilots flying J-15 jets landed at night on the Liaoning, the official paper said, citing a video posted by China’s navy. It said this was a complex maneuver that marked a “huge leap towards gaining full combat capability”.

China has ambitious plans to overhaul its armed forces as it ramps up its presence in the disputed South China Sea and around self-ruled Taiwan, an island China considers its own.

The official newspaper of the People’s Liberation army also said on Saturday that Chinese fighter jets had recently carried out live-fire drills in the South China Sea.

China has been ramping up naval military exercises amid growing tensions with Taiwan. Last month, President Xi Jinping presided over the navy’s largest-ever military display, with 76 fighter jets and a flotilla of 48 warships and submarines.

China’s first domestically developed aircraft carrier set off on sea trials earlier this month. The older Liaoning, which is expected to serve more as a training vessel, was bought second-hand from Ukraine in 1998.

Its navy has also been taking an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with the Liaoning sailing around Taiwan and new Chinese warships popping up in far-flung places.

State media has quoted experts as saying China needs at least six carriers. The United States operates 10 and plans to build two more.

Many experts agree that developing such a force would be a decades-long endeavor but that the drive to bolster its forces at sea will be crucial in the longer term as China looks to erode U.S. military prominence in the region.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Paul Tait and Joseph Radford