Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning spotted off Taiwan by satellite imagery

The Chinese aircraft carrier liaoning and her escorts spent the better part of two weeks operating in the East China Sea under close surveillance by the Japan Self-Defense Forces.

Commercial satellite images show they likely transited the Miyako Strait again on their way to waters east of Taiwan earlier this week. Detresfa_ image intelligence analyst and contributor to The war zonespotted the carrier group in Planet Labs imagery about 85 nautical miles south of Japan’s Yaeyama Islands and 160 nautical miles east of Taiwan in the Philippine Sea.

Friday, Janes reported a statement by Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi that liaoning transport aircraft flew more than 100 sorties in exercises between 3 and 9 May. The exercises included flights of Shenyang J-15 fighters and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations with helicopters.

liaoningThe carrier group appears to include the Type 055 class cruiser/destroyer nanchangwith three Type 052D destroyers, one Type 052C destroyer, one Type 054A frigate and one unknown Type 901 tanker.

It is far from liaoningfor the first time in the spotlight of the Western Pacific or transiting through the Miyako Strait, which separates the Japanese islands Ryuku and Yaeyama northeast of Taiwan.

In December, the Chinese government released video and photos of the carrier and its escorts except sailing in formation with the Japanese carrier. Izumo in the waters near and southeast of the strait. You can read our coverage of the tense flattop encounter here.

April 2021 saw the liaoning and escorts join the growing mass of warships in the South China Sea amid high tensions, sailing close to both the Theodore Roosevelt carrier battle group and the Makin Island amphibious ready group.

The Chinese carrier group will likely receive a lot of attention from US and Japanese surveillance assets, as well as Taiwan, for the duration of its deployment. Formations like these give trained eyes a glimpse of what Chinese carrier groups will look like and how they will operate in wartime, should they ever come to the Western Pacific.

At the same time, these operations are a reminder of how China will increasingly endanger Taiwan from the east. With a rapidly growing navy that includes high-end amphibious capabilities as well as fixed-wing aircraft carriers, a major Chinese operation targeting Taiwan would include full encirclement and attack vectors from all directions. While the PLAN’s much-improved third carrier is expected to launch fairly soon, the threat posed by Chinese carrier strike groups, particularly in Taiwan, is only expected to expand markedly.

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