China has stepped up its programme to train fighter pilots for the newly developed fighter jet J-15 and sail and command warships, a move that aims to create more capable commanding officers for aircraft carriers. China currently has one aircraft carrier, Liaoning, a refit of the Soviet era ship which was commissioned in 2012. It is being largely used for training, especially to test the carrier fighter jet J-15 which has been specifically developed to operate from the decks of the aircraft carriers.
Official media reports say that the second aircraft carrier which is undergoing sea trial is expected to be commissioned shortly while the third one is under construction.
State-run Global Times reported on Tuesday that the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is training jet fighter pilots to sail and command warships to create more capable commanding officers for aircraft carriers.
A recent media report which displayed satellite photos said China has established a huge aircraft carrier factory in Shanghai to produce several huge ships.
China plans to acquire about five to six aircraft carriers in the coming years, according to reports in the official media.
Experienced pilots from carrier-borne aircraft units and advanced fighter jet units started learning warship combat and command at an undisclosed naval academy in late November, the PLA Daily reported on Monday.
This is a whole new exploration by the navy to develop ship-aircraft command talent, as China's aircraft carrier force is in urgent need of such talent, the PLA Daily said, noting that the trainees were carefully selected, passing more than 10 tests.
The training seeks to develop inter-disciplinary talent, as their experiences in both flying and sailing would work in synergy, Wei Dongxu, a Beijing military analyst, told the Global Times on Monday.
"I believe this is a move that aims to create top commanding officers for future aircraft carriers," Wei said, noting that this kind of talent would be practical in boosting the capability of carriers.
Many US aircraft carrier captains and officers at command posts used to be carrier-borne aircraft pilots, and this model is worth studying, Wei said.
Liu Zhe, captain of Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier, said that only the US required aircraft carrier captains to be pilots first due to the massive scale of its aircraft carrier fleet.
Liu said he was only a surface vessel officer and not a pilot. He said he learned to fly trainer aircraft and helicopters, but only for a few hours.
"When we have more aircraft carriers in the future and more [carrier-based] pilots, as they grow older, there will be [pilots who become captains]," Liu was quoted as saying by Global Times.